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Law bans CNMI youth from buying betel nut

Wednesday 28 September 2016 | Published in Regional


NORTHERN MARIANAS – A bill prohibiting the sale of betel nut to minors in the Northern Marianas has been signed into law by Governor Ralph Torres.

It is aimed at curbing oral cancers as Radio New Zealand’s correspondent in the CNMI, Mark Rabago, told Dateline Pacific.

“They are treating this areca nut or betel nut as a cigarette. So anybody who is under 21 are not allowed to obtain to buy or somebody give it to them.

“They are just treating it like tobacco. Recent studies by the University of Guam noticed that oral cancer brought about by betel nut chewing is the third leading cancer in the CNMI.

“They are very worried about what is happening to the people of the islands who chew betel nut. So one way of addressing this problem is passing this law.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: Will it have much effect though? Because betel nut trees grow all over the place don’t they.

“Yes, they agree that any youth can just pick betel nut from a tree and they can have their betel nut as much as they can but governor Torres in his address said even though they can still obtain it at least they are cutting it from the source when they buy in the stores.

DATELINE PACIFIC: So if they haven’t really addressed that problem about betel nut being prevalent but at least they can’t buy it from stores now. In some parts of the Pacific, PNG particularly where betel nut consumption is now banned in public places because of I think primarily the mess it creates and people spitting and so on and so on. Is that an issue in CNMI?

“When I first came here I was shocked while driving the cars they will just open their doors and people would spit out

“But through the years, 15 years that I have been here, it becomes less and less. But there is still some especially in sports events. You would pick up a bottle and think it is just an empty bottle and there is spit there.

“So they are still allowing it in public but I think they are not allowing it in government offices anymore. And some private businesses also are asking people who work their, even guests not to chew in their premises.

“There is some movement against it but it is, the total ban, there is no ban yet.

DATELINE PACIFIC: Is it likely to go further? The people who have brought this in, do they see this as the first of a number of steps?

“Yes, the Commonwealth Cancer Association is in the forefront of this. In fact during the signing their executive director, Juan Nekai Babauta, said another bill will try to impose a tax on betel nuts that are imported.

“So those from Chuuk, from outside the islands, would have to be taxed when they come here from Palau. So it is another way of cutting the source. But as you said there is still a lot of betel nut trees on the island.

DATELINE PACIFIC: There hasn’t been any suggestion about cutting all the trees down?

“ No, not yet, not yet. It is also some people sell their betel nuts in the store. So you would be depriving some households of their income so they are probably not looking at that drastically yet.

“But if you really want to address oral cancer it is not just cutting the source there is also awareness.

“They are looking at going to school. Especially the small children because it is hard to kick an old habit. If you are really addicted to this chewing it is hard, so you have to get them young, educate the kids.

“It is culture, it is tradition but at the same time it is killing you.”

- Dateline Pacific