Guam Legislature Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz
When thinking of an island community, images of warm, helpful people may come to mind. Many believe that island communities are self-sufficient and generous compared to big city living, which focuses more on individuality. Guam’s inafamaolek culture is still very relevant today, yet many have difficulty adapting to the individual-driven lifestyle that American culture has brought. It is just easier to find escape with alcohol, or tobacco, or gambling. But these temporary fulfillments have had long-lasting impacts on Guam socioeconomics.
“Guam currently has the highest youth smoking rate in the entire nation,” said 34th Guam Legislature Speaker Benjamin J. F. Cruz. “This disturbing statistic is no surprise when you realize that a majority of underage users rely on social sources to get tobacco. Increasing the age of access ensures that our high school teens are less likely to be in the same social networks as those who can legally buy tobacco—protecting an entire generation from a lifetime of addiction and disease.”
Speaker Cruz also believes that the community can save money by raising the drinking age. “Raising the age of access is cost-effective,” Cruz stated. “The earlier you start smoking, the less likely you are to quit. And, as long as it costs fifty times more to treat a patient who’s made the choice to smoke compared to a patient who doesn’t, it’s the entire community, not just the individual, who pays for that choice.” GMH is losing out on money from patients that are unable to pay. A healthier community can reduce the number of people that are unable to pay medical bills.
Increasing the alcohol drinking age from 18 to 21 has shown a positive health impact on Guam. “While increasing the minimum legal drinking age has been statistically proven to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries, the most noticeable impact on Guam was the immediate decrease in alcohol abuse among our youth,” said Cruz.
“According to the Guam State Epidemiological Profile for 2014, binge-drinking significantly decreased in 2011 following the passage of my measure to raise the legal drinking age (Public Law 30-156). Medical experts at the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center also attributed the decrease in Guam’s suicide rate to the enactment of P.L. 30-156.”
Alcoholism isn’t just a physical sickness; it’s a mental/emotional one. By increasing the drinking age, Cruz has helped the youth find positive ways to spend their time.
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Cruz’s current endeavor is to tackle gambling. “Guam's laws on gambling are statutorily schizophrenic,” claimed Cruz. “That is why I have opposed gambling throughout my career, and why I also supported an amendment in the 32nd Guam Legislature that would have barred gambling in all its currently legal forms. With so much of the crime we face as a community linked to addiction, we'd be lying to ourselves if we thought that 'addictive gambling' could be cured by government regulation.”
Gambling does not just affect individuals, it affects families. “As a family court judge, I saw the very real pain and suffering caused by addictive gambling in this community. And unless you have seen a little girl sell herself to pay for spam and bread because her parents gambled away the family paycheck, no one can tell me that gambling is harmless.” The crimes and familial problems that are caused by gambling hurt the inafamaolek spirit, he says.
It can be difficult for morals and values to stay intact with the ever-changing society; therefore, Cruz strives to keep Guam ‘good.’ “In my forty-two years of public service, my vision for Guam has always remained the same: ensure that our government works just as hard for the powerless as it does for the powerful,” he said. “As chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, that means passing balanced budgets, working to cut our massive debt and making the best possible use of every tax dollar so that, ultimately, we preserve and strengthen the island we have borrowed from our children.”
Alcoholism, tobacco use, and gambling are some of the biggest issues in Guam today. But as healthy living and inafamaolek continue to be promoted, Guam’s culture will survive modern times.