Costa Rican lawmakers approved major reforms to the country’s weak anti-smoking laws. The bill, which now awaits President Laura Chinchilla’s signature, includes banning smoking at bus and taxi terminals, work places, public buildings, restaurants and bars. Legislators passed the bill with a vote of 45 in favor and 2 against.
The vote came in spite of a challenge by 10 lawmakers to send the bill to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to review the constitutionality of the reforms. The Legislative Assembly did not receive a notification from the Sala IV in time to prevent the vote.
The law would toughen up some of the mildest anti-smoking laws in Latin America, in a measure long shown to be supported by the majority of Costa Rican residents. The legislation would bring Costa Rica up to international standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO), and already recognized by close to 100 countries.
The bill also calls for cigarette packs to be taxed an extra ₡20 (4 cents) per cigarette, and sales of individual cigarettes would be banned. The bill would require cigarette packs to display text and photo warnings on at least 50 percent of packaging.ç
“Everyone is aware of the benefits of this law, both smokers and non-smokers,” said Teresita Arrieta, who runs the Smoke-Free Spaces Program for Costa Rica’s Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “This is not a fight against smokers. It’s a fight for the health of this country. Right now, we are very satisfied.”
Implementation of specific articles of the bill could be delayed as tobacco companies file lawsuits against the constitutionality of the law. Advocates of the law told The Tico Times last week that they believe the Sala IV would find all articles of the bill constitutional since it follows WHO standards. The bill passed a first round of debate last Monday with 46 lawmakers in favor and four against.
A second and final debate was scheduled for last Thursday, but lawmakers fell short of quorum, delaying the vote to Monday.
Polls conducted by the Health Ministry show that 93 percent of the country supports stronger anti-smoking laws, even though 14.3 percent of residents call themselves regular smokers.