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Costa Rica May Soon Join Other Half Of the World Already With Anti-Smoking Laws

Costa Rica may soon be part of the growing list of countries to adopt measures aimed at protecting non-smokers from second hand smoke and part of the 150 million plus smokers in Latin America and the Caribbean that are finding it more and more difficult to smoke in public places.


But activists say bans on smoking must be accompanied by consciousness-raising and efforts at persuasion.

More than half the countries in the world already ban smoking in public places. Costa Rica, however, is in the half that doesn't, not having any regulations on smoking in public places or promote the dangers of smoking and the effect of second hand smoke.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has urged governments to make closed public spaces and workplaces free of tobacco smoke, which contains 400 chemical compounds, 250 of which are toxic and 50 of which are carcinogenic.

In Brazil, smoking has been banned in most public places since 1996, including hospitals, classrooms, public offices, libraries, cinemas and theatres, while specific smoking areas have been set up in other public spaces. Some 33 million of Brazil's 188 million people are smokers, and around 200,000 tobacco-related deaths are reported annually, equivalent to one-third of the region's 600,000 smoking-related deaths, according to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

Uruguay completely prohibited smoking in all enclosed public spaces in March 2006. An average of seven people a day die in the South American country of 3.3 million people of smoking-related causes including lung cancer, emphysema and other illnesses.

Mexico, with a population 30 times bigger than that of Uruguay, one person dies of tobacco-related illnesses every 10 minutes. The government there has reacted by banning smoking in federal buildings, schools, public transport and restaurants, except in specially designated smoking areas.

In Chile, a law passed prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces, and in offices with less than 10 employees, while bars and restaurants smaller than 100 square metres must decide whether to be smoke-free or smoker-friendly establishments.

In Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, smoking is banned in schools, hospitals, workplaces, public transport, bars, restaurants, and theatres with an all-age audience.

Talks on the ban on smoking in public places in Costa Rica is nothing new, it has been a subject of debate by legislators for several years.


Costa Rica's Health Ministry has been working to push through laws to ban smoking in places like restaurants, shopping centres and office buildings, for example, as well as restrict cigarette advertising and visible warnings on cigarette packs.

The the push has not been an easy one, as authorities find strong opposition to the ban.

A revised bill, however, introduced in the legislature in the last few days may have a chance of passing through this time, with one particular change that has a positive impact on the country's strapped financial situation, the inclusion of a tax of ˘100 per cigarette (˘2.000 for a pack of 20) that would be used to fund anti-smoking and cancer prevention programs.

It is estimated that some 15% of the people in Costa Rica smoke cigarettes according to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), perhaps more if one counts the "social" smoker, those who smoke only in social situations and don't consider themselves smokers per se.

It is not uncommon to see friends, acquaintances or work colleagues smoke when in a social setting, but not at other times.

Since 2008, the Red Nacional Antitabaco, has been active in getting legislation passed. The president of the Red, Roberto Castro, told La Nación, "It is a shame as a country, if we pride ourselves on having one of the best health systems, how is it that possible that we do not already have this law here?".

For his part, Gerardo Lizano, manager of Corporate Affairs at British American Tobacco, one of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the country, said he recognizes the need for regulation on tobacco and believes that a transcendental point of the law is the tax on cigarettes and if the tax is too high it could increase the smuggling of the product.

One fact that rings out is that most smokers do not want to quit. Yes, they try all sorts of things to stop smoking, patches, nicotine gum, etc, but the truth is that "smoking is great", as one smoker told Inside Costa Rica recently, who opposes the ban on smoking.

In Costa Rica it is not uncommon for a "non smoker" to be buying a single cigarette during a lunch or coffee break, smoking one or two or three "singles" a day, but do not consider themselves a smoker. Vendors in the downtown core sell a variety of different brands as singles to the "non smokers".

Gino who quit smoking two years ago and is favour of the ban told Inside Costa Rica that "this time the legislation will pass and we will have the ban". Gino, not his real name, in his mid thirties today, says he has been smoking since he was 14. " I smoked everything", he told us during his interview, but today is glad that he quit, realizing the harmful effects.

His decision to quit, he told us, is when he found it hard to be able to walk up a flight of stairs and at such a young age.

The ban on smoking, if passed, will mark a potentially lucrative market for makers of electronic cigarettes, which simulate the sensation of a cigarette and can contain nicotine. The plastic cigarettes function as mini aerosols, releasing artificial smoke with or without nicotine.

Electronic cigarettes, unlike in the United States, Canada and Europe are hard to come by, with some specialty tobacco shops carrying them at double or triple the price of online sales. And ordering online can be complicated as the import of nicotine could run into customs and health department issues.

One start-up (e-cigarriloscr) that will soon be introducing en masse the electronic cigarettes in the market is hyped at the market potential and health benefits for smokers and for those subjected to second hand smoke.



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