San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Where are the warning labels on cigarette packs?

More than a year after Costa Rica’s anti-smoking law was passed in 2012, a regulation obligating tobacco companies to publish graphic warnings on cigarette packs has yet to be enforced.

Costa Rican lawmakers adopted the General Tobacco Control Law in March 2012. The law prohibits smoking in public areas, bars, restaurants and other establishments. Three months later, in June 2012, the rules of the law were published in the official government newspaper La Gaceta. But the requirement that companies print large warning labels – as is the norm in several countries – was missing.

In response, the National Anti-Tobacco Network (RENATA) joined lawmakers on Monday in a press conference at the Legislative Assembly to pressure President Laura Chinchilla to approve the health warning regulation.

“It’s necessary that this regulation is drafted and approved by the executive branch as soon as possible as a show of commitment and political will to protect public health,” Citizen Action Party lawmaker Carmen Granados said.

Once the regulation is approved, tobacco companies will have one year to begin publishing graphic warnings as to the dangers of smoking on 50 percent of the fronts and backs of cigarette packs, and 100 percent on the sides.

Yul Francisco Dorado, a member of global watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, also attended the Monday press conference in San José.

Dorado said private interests hope to consult with the World Trade Organization in an attempt to block the regulation. But, she said, the issue is a public health matter, and has nothing to do with trade.

“Tobacco companies use cigarette packs to advertise their product, and health warnings would compete for that space,” RENATA member Teresita Arrieta said.

Dorado sent a letter to Chinchilla urging the president to adopt the health warning regulation, and said she would expect a response within 15 days.

Health officials say 10 people die each day in Costa Rica from illnesses related to smoking.

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