Anti-tobacco law gets first approval in legislature

A.M. Costa Rica archives Doing this in the wrong place would cost $94.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em because soon you will not be able to do so. In public, that is.

The legislature suspended discussion of the president’s proposed new taxes Monday to discuss and vote on an anti-tobacco law. The measure passed overwhelmingly, 46 to 4. This is the legislation that Costa Rica has agreed to pass to bring itself into conformity with an international treaty against tobacco that the country has signed and ratified. A second and final vote is likely this week.

The proposed law, as reported in the past, prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, office, shopping centers, public and private schools, automatic tellers, workplaces and, after a small change Monday, at bus and taxi stops.

The proposed law also prohibits advertising related to tobacco products. And cigarette packages have to have 50 percent of the outside space dedicated to health messages.

Also prohibited is the Costa Rican tradition of selling cigarettes one at a time. This is common at vendor stands in urban areas. When the measure goes into effect, the minimum purchase will be 10 cigarettes.

The measure also provides for health services to help those addicted to tobacco.

Also covered are smokeless tobaccos, such as snuff.

The measure also imposes a special tobacco tax, which is 20 colons for each cigarette, cigar or other type of tobacco. Some 60 percent of the tax will go to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to support anti-tobacco programs and cancer treatments. Some 20 percent will go to the Ministerio de Salud to support its obligations under the law. And 15 percent is earmarked for the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia. The Instituto Costarricense del Deportes y la Recreación gets 5 percent.

The average citizen or resident who is caught smoking in a prohibited place will face a fine of 15 percent of a base salary, which now is 316,200 colons. So the fine would be a bit more than 47,000 colons or about $94.

Administrators of businesses where illegal smoking is found are subject to a fine of 50 percent of a base salary. That also goes for those using a method of sale, such as the Internet, where they cannot verify that the purchaser is an adult. The same fine is specified for anyone who sells cigarettes in quantities less than 10 and anyone who does so through a vending machine.

Business operators also have to put up and maintain posters that say smoking is illegal.

The stiffest fine, 10 base salaries or about $6,250, mostly concerns manufacturers and distributors. The fines cover those who may not place warning notices on cigarette packages, sell tobacco products in places where smoking is prohibited, such as bars and restaurants, and those who engage in advertising tobacco products.

The fines and prohibitions in the proposed law will not be immediate. The executive branch has six months from the publication of the law to draw up regulations. And all those affected by the law have 12 months after the regulations are published to conform.

Lawmakers declined Monday to assess the new tobacco tax in stages of five colons per year, despite concerns that higher taxes would lead to smuggling.

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