Proposed rules published for compliance with anti-tobacco law

The Ministry de Salud has published proposed rules to enforce the new tobacco control law that was published March 26.

If approved by President Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the 79- page document will end any lingering doubts on the part of businesses and individuals as to their rights and obligations under the law. Many were surprised when the ministry issued a sweeping ban on public smoking just weeks after the law was passed, instead of waiting the full six months provided by the law.

Proposed rules reaffirm the smoking ban and require in some circumstances larger non-smoking signs. One article explains exactly how visually impaired and blind persons must be informed of the prohibition. The document continually cites the explicit, legal right of non-smokers to enjoy public spaces free of tobacco. There is no mention of any rights for smokers.

Implications exist for business owners and employers. Under the law they can be fined for failure to protect the rights of non-smokers. The health ministry also would set up a national registry of unpaid fines. Companies listed there might not be able to renew business licenses and permits.

Employers would also have obligations under the proposed rules. The prohibition and sanctions on employees smoking at work would have to be documented in policy manuals, and it would be possible to fire an employee for smoking at work. Employers would also be required to give time off for employees to attend smoking-cessation programs. The national health care system or Caja must pay for and offer these programs, which would be accredited by the health ministry.
Public schools would also educate children as to the dangers of tobacco use.

The bulk of the proposed rules actually deal with the marketing and sale of tobacco products. Businesses that sell tobacco would essentially be forced to make the product both invisible and inaccessible to customers. For example, grocery stores would have to put opaque covers on the cigarette bins, and a cigar store might comply by installing locks and opaque glass on their humidors. The law effectively ends any kind of tobacco brand recognition, apart from word of mouth promotion. Even cigarette packages would consist of more space for warning labels than brand name. Advertising is prohibited. The proposed time for compliance is between three and 12 months from publication of the final rules.

The enforcement of a similar Spanish law has reduced the percentage of smokers from 40.3 percent to 35.3 percent and consumption among the working population, a report said this week. This decline applies to men and women of all ages and occupations.

A pioneering study, carried out by the Society of Prevention of Ibermutuamur, an insurance organization, analyzed the consumption of tobacco in the working population during the first months of application of the law. This law extended the smoking ban to all enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants.

Between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011, the development of the percentage of smokers and tobacco consumption in a sample of 413,473 workers of all ages and occupations was assessed. The conclusions are published this month in the journal Revista Española de Salud Pública.

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