Cigarette health warnings and a ban on ‘light’ labeling becomes law

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill that mandates health warnings on all cigarette packets as well as prohibiting brands from using the words “light” or “suave” in their labels.

The measure is the latest curb by the Costa Rican government on tobacco consumption, coming on the heels of a ban on sales of small packs of cigarettes.

“This is the end of a 10-year fight against tobacco,” Chinchilla said after signing the bill on Tuesday. Chinchilla said opposition had successfully impeded the cigarette regulations, with vendors and producers arguing it would hurt the economy. She argued that a healthier population would be an economic boost.

Chinchilla’s health minister, Daisy Corrales, presented a slideshow at the San José press conference showing an example health warning. The label showed a cloud of smoke surrounding a sleeping infant, with a warning in Spanish noting the harmful effects of cigarette smoke on children.

“This is one of the No. 1 enemies of children and the people of the country,” Corrales said.

The legislation mandates that the top half of all cigarette packs contain the Health Ministry’s message, as well as the bottom half of the back.

The government now prohibits brands from using words or phrases it argued mislead consumers on the health of a cigarette. Banned terms included light, ultra, extra, ligero, and suave. The government plans to roll out a series of rotating messages warning of risks such as cancer, harm to a fetus, and the harm of second-hand smoke. The law will take effect when the official government newspaper, La Gaceta, publishes it.

Chinchilla’s government has made a mission of cracking down on tobacco. In late June, she signed a ban on selling packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes. In March, public smoking bans at bars, restaurants, casinos and bus stations went into effect. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Costa Rica has the highest rate of smoking in Central America, and a rate that’s higher than Mexico. WHO reported Ticos smoke the equivalent of 529 cigarettes per person per year in a country with a population of about 4.7 million.

Smoking in Costa Rica is half of what it is in the United States, however, which averages 1,028 cigarettes per person. Costa Rica had the sixth-highest rate of smoking for Latin America, trailing Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.