Anti-smoking bill passes first debate

February 20, 2012

Sweeping reforms to Costa Rica’s smoking laws passed the first round of debate in the Legislative Assembly on Monday. Lawmakers approved the bill 46 votes in favor and 4 against.

The bill, if it passes another round of voting on Thursday, would ban smoking in bars, restaurants, public buildings, bus stops and taxi stands. Individual cigarettes would be taxed an extra ₡20 (4 cents). A previous law banned smoking in public buildings, but was vague, allowing businesses like bars and restaurants to permit smoking indoors.

“We are delighted by this law, because Costa Ricans finally will be free of smoke,” said Luis Antonio Campos from the National Liberation Party (PLN) and a member of the legislative commission that successfully debated the bill before it moved to a vote before the full assembly.

The country’s lax smoking laws have been debated for years, but roadblocks arose every time a version of the anti-tobacco bill came to vote. The National Anti-Tobacco Network and Health Minister Daisy Corrales helped push the bill through. The minister praised the assembly for approving the measure.

“This is a milestone to be celebrated in the country,” Corrales said in a statement from the PLN’s press office. “We are very happy because the motion was also approved for funding. We were looking at how best to move forward preventive health measures and treatment associated with this smoking ban.”

The vote came after lawmakers decided to put aside discussions on Costa Rica’s fiscal reform plan in order to bring up issues that appear ready for vote, such as the anti-smoking law and traffic law reforms. The anti-smoking bill would help Costa Rica fall in line with guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

Campos said that fines for smoking in restricted public areas would range from one to two minimum salaries, and would increase for repeat offenders.

The second debate for the bill is scheduled for Thursday. If it passes a second vote, the bill will be sent to President Laura Chinchilla’s desk for signing.

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