Smoking in Costa Rica is not only unhealthy for the lungs, but it may soon make a bigger dent in the wallet too.
A handful of legislators, backed by the Health Ministry, are supporting a bill that would raise the tax on each cigarette sold by ¢100 ($0.18) or ¢2,000 ($3.52) for a pack of 20.
The new price would nearly quadruple the cost of cigarettes, from ¢650 ($1.14) for the cheapest brands to ¢2,650 ($4.67).
Rather than reacting with anger, some smokers welcomed the news.
“It´s a good idea for everyone,” said Christian Luna, as he puffed on a cigarette outside the courts on Friday. “I will certainly smoke less.”
Even cigarette seller Ana Catalina Soto was open to the idea.
“It´s become an epidemic here and this might improve the situation. People will smoke less,” she said, after displaying a few of the packs she sold at a pulpería (small shop) on Avenida 8.
She wasn´t too concerned about the effect on sales, saying, “(Cigarettes) are not our principal business.”
The initiative stemmed in part from an agreement with the World Health Organization in which Costa Rica agreed to address its smoking problem.
The law would also limit smoking in work places, in recreation or cultural areas and near health centers, according to an advisory to the Legislative Assembly.
An estimated 400,000 men and 140,000 women in Costa Rica – about 12 percent of the population – are smokers, according to statistics on the Social Security System´s Web site (http://www.ccss.sa.cr).
Under the proposed law, the tax of ¢100 will vary according to inflation and manufacturers would be required to cover at least 70 percent of the front face of the cigarette pack with a health warning.