As expected, lawmakers give final OK to tobacco ban

The legislature approved for the second and final time Monday a law to forbid smoking in most public and private locations. The vote was 45 to 2.

The action was expected because the measure had been approved overwhelmingly in an initial vote, and the country already said it would take this action when it ratified an international treaty against smoking in 2008.

The law, when signed by President Laura Chinchilla, will take about 18 months to go into effect. Then there will be stiff fines for persons who smoke in forbidden places. And these are about anywhere someone may be except the open air and their own home.

Those who dare smoke in a forbidden location face fines. 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.

The proposed law 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.

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 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.

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