Constitutional court finds no flaws in stiff rules against tobacco

The Sala IV constitutional court decided that there are no legal flaws in a new law to control the use of tobacco. The decision opens the way for President Laura Chinchilla to sign the measure.

The anti-tobacco law already received a second and final vote in the legislature.

However, that may not be the last word. Philip Morris, the tobacco firm, has dragged the country of Uruguay into international arbitration over a similar law. The tobacco firm said that the law is damaging its profits and that a rule to cover up part of its logo with grim graphics deprives it of its property.

Uruguay has the support of many countries and also of New York Michael Bloomberg.

The outcome of the arbitration case will have an effect on Costa Rica as well as any other country that has subscribed to the World Health Organizations anti-tobacco treaty.

The decision by the Sala IV was anticipated because the same body gave approval to the anti-tobacco treaty in 2008. The law closely follows that document and prohibits smoking in public places and places of public accommodation, like restaurants.

The proposed law, as reported in the past, also prohibits smoking in bars, offices, shopping centers, public and private
schools, automatic tellers, workplaces and 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.

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 as will operators of businesses who allow smoking.

However, the law does not go into effect immediately. The government has six months after the president signs the bill to draw up regulations. Then businesses and tobacco distributors have a year to conform.

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