While the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association has decided the Natasha Protection Act — which had its public hearing on March 17 — is unfair to its members one major hotel has gone ahead and forged its own policy.

That decision was prompted by a public health citation.

On Oct. 8 2003 a Department of Public Health and Social Services official cited the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa for various smoking related offenses: “Regulation of Smoking in Places of Employment ” and “Posting Signs.”

Ernest Quenga enforcement officer at the department said the Hilton in 2003 had no lobby signs indicating designated smoking areas therefore people were smoking throughout the lobby. The placement of ashtrays in the smoking area of the lobby he said also gave the perception that the immediate area was a designated smoking area.

Since then public health officials have alleged violations at the hotel on more than one occasion as recently as March 16.

“If you have an ashtray situated in an area to extinguish cigarettes people will get the notion that it’s okay you can smoke. By law there has to be a sign ” he said.

“Because it is a lobby area and it is a transit area for visitors coming in and leaving it can’t be partly designated as a smoking area because it’s not a confined area. They (Hilton) are of the opinion that because there is an eatery or a bakery in the area that means the area was allowed for smoking.”

Manfred H.Pieper general manager of the Hilton said the citation came out of the blue. “The lobby was divided into two sections where people could sit down. It was very much to our surprise that we were cited for violation since we had signs on all tables indicating the non-smoking area as well as a standing brass sign.

“Because of at times it became a bit fluid — a tourist would move a seat say — it became at times difficult for us to control. In view of this we have put a smoking ban on the entire lobby.”

The Hilton challenged the citation in the Superior Court of Guam and pleaded not guilty according to citation records obtained from the court. Judge Arthur R. Barcinas issued a warning to the Hilton on Dec. 15 2003 but did not impose a fine of $500 for each offense. The enforcement officer said he was under the assumption the hotel would now correct the smoking and non-smoking issue.

However a year following the court judgement Quenga said Public Health employees saw ashtrays situated in areas without designated smoking signs. Quenga himself attended a three-day Emergency Medical Services training on Operation and Planning for Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents hosted by the Guam Department of Homeland Security from January 25 to 27. He says he was late for the first day of training because he spotted smokers around ashtrays at the entrance of the training room — across Roys — and adjacent to the staircase going doing down to the Marianas Ballroom where signs were not present and immediately notified the banquet department. On the third and last date of the training the ashtray was still there. “Trainees were smoking in the area.” Quenga said he assumed the Hilton would have corrected the problem since the warning.

Joyce Lujan Kraus marketing and communications manager at the Hilton said the only smoking policy that changed was the implementation of “no smoking” in the lobby lounge effective in February. She said ashtrays were placed outside of the hotel and that the hotel’s dining outlets have designated smoking areas suggesting the hotel is well within the smoking regulations.

Quenga said Peter John Camacho director of the Public Health; knew of another possible violation in March that had been corrected.

To ensure compliancy Quenga made another visit to the hotel on March 16 and reportedly the hotel appears to be in full compliance. He said Hilton has been extremely cooperative. Early in 2003 Outrigger Guam Resort was successful in a similar case because of administrative error Quenga said.

The issue is a sensitive one considering the number of smokers in Guam’s population and the number of Asian visitors that smoke.

Attempts to regulate smoking become emotional because Guamanians and tourists from Asia are avid smokers. Industry experts said wholesalers received about seven shipping containers of cigarettes per month in 2004 and smokers spent about $153 million last year on 90 000 cases of smokes — about 3 600 000 cartons. Though it is sizable the cigarette market has shrunk 20% since its peak in 2002. Taxes in 2003 were raised from $21 per 30-carton case to $300 per case.

The Natasha Protection Act seeks to amend regulation of smoking and the Clean Indoor Air Act of 1992. The bill prohibits smoking in restaurants but not in bars.

The Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association is not in favor of the present legislation. Bartley A. Jackson general manager of Pacific Islands Club and chairman of the association said “If the legislation is a health issue regarding customers and employees being subjected to second-hand smoke and it’s not healthy for anyone then why the need to make an arbitrary distinction with restaurants versus bars night clubs or other places?”

He said the association objected to lawmakers “choosing arbitrarily” that restaurants should be impacted more than other outlets.

“So our position is if they really want to make it a health issue we have no problem with that but it’s not appropriate for them to distinguish these mix of businesses.”

Pieper said the legislature should “leave this whole issue alone. Do not over-regulate our industry.” From a commercial point of view he said industry members should be allowed to choose and accept any consequences of their decisions. “Customers do not have to buy my product — they have a choice. I can understand it in public places that you have to go to and you have no choice — but in a restaurant people can make up their own minds. Hopefully the law will not be stupid enough to go as far as banning smoking in the [outdoor] Tree Bar.”

Pieper said the Hilton had introduced a seven-days a week smoking ban into Roy’s Restaurant “on a voluntary basis ” but not into Roy’s Lounge. Pieper said Hilton was still reviewing arrangements at the Islander Terrace where some meal times have a smoking ban and others do not. “The Islander Terrace is a little easier to control it’s compartmentalized.”

Jackson whose hotel accommodates smokers and non-smokers in its outlets said “Restaurants that exit to the street can have people go outside. For restaurants that have no exit to the street these are difficult issues.” He said the hospitality industry on Guam “might look for some sort of accommodation of smokers such as they have in airports.”

GHRA has attempted to conduct surveys: A February survey was conducted among members’ a second survey with a handful of questions was distributed to a sample of GHRA member restaurants for tourist and local customers to fill out on March 13. Jackson said the customer survey was not an official survey but a pocket poll of some members. GHRA decided to base its position on the proposed legislation.

If the Natasha Act became law Jackson does not envision any of its members refusing to follow the law.

— Maureen N. Maratita contributed to this story.