Costa Rica’s Supreme Court declares anti-smoking bill constitutional

September 17, 2014

Read the full text of the bill here

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled Tuesday that Costa Rica’s anti-tobacco bill is constitutional.

In a 5-2 decision, the court said the Control of Tobacco and its Harmful Effects on Health Bill “did not contain any procedural errors nor articles that could be deemed unconstitutional.”

The bill now goes to the president for signing into law.

President Laura Chinchilla praised the ruling through her Twitter account. She plans to sign the legislation at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

“I celebrate that the Sala IV gave the green light to the anti-tobacco bill,” Chinchilla wrote. “Nothing will stop us from signing it, and we will do it as soon as possible.”

After the bill receives the president’s signature, it must be published in the official government newspaper, La Gaceta, before the rules become official. Then, a 90-day adjustment period starts as officials determine reglamentos, or regulations, that explain how the law will be enforced.

The bill bans smoking in places such as bars, restaurants, public buildings, bus stops and taxi stands. Taxes will increase ₡20 ($0.04 cents) per cigarette. The bill mandates cigarette packs display text and photo warnings on at least 50 percent of the box. Central American neighbors Guatemala, Honduras and Panama already approved similar measures.

A couple of the magistrates who approved the bill questioned why the legislation was reviewed by the Sala IV in the first place.

On Feb. 27, Costa Rican lawmakers passed the 100-percent smoke-free environment bill in a 45-2 vote, sending it to the president to sign. However, in a controversial move, the Sala IV accepted a last-minute petition by 10 opposition legislators to assess the bill’s constitutionality before Chinchilla could sign it into law.

Judges Luis Jinesta and Ana Virginia Calzada stated the Sala IV never had authority to review the bill since it already had passed through the Legislative Branch. Still, the tobacco reforms held up under scrutiny – and for the reasons anti-tobacco advocates had cited all along.

The judges wrote that there’s no proof the bill’s tax increase will encourage contraband, an argument made by tobacco companies Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. Smokers’ rights are not infringed upon since the law does not ban the sale of tobacco products, the Sala IV affirmed, as it only limits where the products can be used in an effort to protect public health. The smokers’ rights argument had been made repeatedly by leaders of the country’s Restaurant Chamber, which oversees bars and club in Costa Rica.

Representatives for the tobacco industry and the Restaurant Chamber both stated to media Tuesday night that they would accept the ruling. Since the Sala IV declared the bill constitutional, opponents have limited recourse for stopping its implementation, although they can try to influence the strictness of reglamentos.

In addition, the Sala IV referenced the effectiveness of the law in other countries in regards to protecting the public. The smoke-free bill follows guidelines set by the World Health Organization, already put into practice in nine other Latin American countries.

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