San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica tries again to butt out smoking

With stringy black hair and orange highlights resting on each of her cheeks, Monika Alvarado, 34, hunched her shoulders and dropped her head to shield herself from an afternoon breeze. Alvarado slipped a Derby cigarette into her mouth and used her left hand to cup her lighter while she lit up a post-lunch smoke.

Once lit, Alvarado lifted her head and blew a coiling plume of gray smoke into the air.

“It’s a part of my routine,” she said as she sat on a bench in the Plaza de la Democracía outside of the National Museum in downtown San José early Tuesday afternoon. “I always smoke at this time. It relaxes me before returning to work for the second part of the day.”

Just blocks away from Alvarado’s post-lunch smoke, students and anti-tobacco groups led public demonstrations outside of the Legislative Assembly in celebration of “World No Tobacco Day.”

At 9 a.m., dozens of students from throughout the country descended on the boulevard in front of the Legislative Assembly to lobby for the passage of a bill titled “The Control of Tobacco and its Harmful Effects on Health,” drafted in 2008. Amid the ceremonies and demonstrations against tobacco, cardboard cutouts of children were placed across the boulevard. The images of the children help up signs that read “I want to breathe clean air” or “When you smoke, I smoke.”

“One of our main objectives today is to create awareness about the effect of cigarette smoke on children,” Teresita Arrieta, a representative of National Anti-Smoking Network of Costa Rica (Renata) told The Tico Times. “The effect of smoking on children carries a very high risk, and, if there is no alteration to legislation, it could result in illnesses throughout the country. About 160,000 children worldwide died last year due to the effects of smoking.”

Arrieta said that 14.8 percent of Costa Ricans smoke and that an average of 10 Costa Ricans die each day due to effects of cigarette smoking and tobacco. She also said there were 3,650 tobacco related deaths in Costa Rica in 2010, a high figure for country of 4.5 million. 

While lawmakers didn’t discuss the bill this week, Arrieta spoke to lawmakers about the harms of smoking.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 6 million people are expected to die due to tobacco use, including some 600,000 non-smokers who will die from exposure to tobacco smoke.

Alvarado said she has been smoking since she was about 19. She smokes five to 10 cigarettes per day and sometimes more on the weekends, but she supports anything that might encourage others to quit.

“I know it’s bad for me, but I actually enjoy it,” she said between drags. “I respect everyone that tries to stop others from smoking and I have no problem with that. I hope they respect my choice like I respect theirs.”

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