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Governor criticized for vetoing tobacco access legislation

Members of Youth for Youth Live and the author of the legislation that proposed to increase the age for legal access to tobacco in Guam from 18 to 21 reacted quickly to the governor’s veto of Bill 141-33.

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, author of the bill, on Friday criticized the governor’s veto shortly after learning of it. Cruz vowed to search for a 10th lawmaker to help override the veto. On June 17, the bill passed the legislature by a vote of 9 to 6, one vote shy of a veto-proof majority.

“In the days and weeks ahead, I pray we find a 10th vote. So many lives are depending on it,” Cruz stated, making known his intention to override the veto.

In his veto, Calvo called the measure “well-intended” and acknowledged the adverse health risks associated with tobacco and smoking. “What is troubling with this bill is that it constitutes a willful intrusion into the personal lives and choices of our citizens,” Calvo said. The governor suggested the issue would be much better left to the referendum process.

Sen. Brant McCreadie, a non-smoker and one of the six lawmakers who voted “nay” on the measure, also referred to the legislation as an intrusion. In an earlier interview with the Post, McCreadie said that because 18-year-olds are able to make decisions such as vote for elected officials, serve the country in military service and numerous other decisions that affect their lives and the lives of others, they should be able to make this decision for themselves.

Calvo continued in his veto message: “In a community where we ask people as young as 16 and 17 to commit their lives to serving in the military, it seems contradictory to say they can’t decide for themselves whether they should be allowed the personal decision to pick up a cigarette until they’re 21 years old.”

Still, Cruz maintained that this was a life-and-death issue. “Big tobacco companies are the most lethal drug dealers on the planet. And Gov. Calvo’s veto of a bill supported by physicians, public health professionals and our island’s youth gave these companies a license to keep on killing,” Cruz said.

“Cigarettes turn choice into a lifelong addiction funded by taxpayers, many of whom never smoked a day in their lives. When it costs 40 times more to treat a smoker than a nonsmoker, it isn’t about choice. It’s about saving lives, saving dollars and saving valuable public resources.”

Joining McCreadie in the nay column were Sens. Tony Ada, Frank Blas Jr., James Espaldon, Rory Respicio and Dennis Rodriguez.

Youth group hits veto

Meanwhile, Youth for Youth Live in a press release echoed the vice speaker’s sentiments. “We are writing today to express our disappointment with the recent veto of Bill 141-33, the Youth Protection Act of 2017.”

They told the governor that his veto message was off-point. Youth for Youth Live argued, “Smoking a cigarette or using any type of tobacco product might appear as a personal choice when entering adulthood, but growing up in a community that advertises and promotes tobacco use increases the likelihood of youth tobacco use.”

The organization told Calvo that the bill protects the youth against big tobacco companies that pour millions of dollars into targeting youth as replacement smokers and costs communities millions of dollars in health care.

“Clearly, this is a missed monumental opportunity,” the group wrote.

Like Cruz, the group called on one more lawmaker to vote to override the governor’s veto. “We write this in the hope that our legislators will see how important this bill truly is for our youth and for the future generations on our island,” the group stated.

“Senators, we are asking you to believe in us. Believe in the data we have presented you. Believe in the science behind addiction. Believe in the positive economic and emotional impact that saving lives would bring to our island if only you passed this bill. Believe in this bill, just as we believe, and trust in your efforts to create a healthier community for our island.”

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