Local tobacco shop owners say that sales have dropped since Costa Rica’s anti-tobacco law passed two years ago.
At the Havana Humidor Room downtown, an impressive selection of Cuban cigars line the shelves within the glass-walled humidor that remains at 69 degrees F. Like wine, these luxury pleasures are best when aged, says the store’s owner, Bruce Levy, as he looks through to his collection.
Levy said some of his old clients don’t travel to Costa Rica because cigar aficionados often choose their vacations with tobacco laws and taxes in mind. After taking over the business three years ago, he said the change in business has been noticeable and that some of his former patrons would rather go to Las Vegas where they feel more free to smoke cigars in the casinos or other venues. A pair of workers from the Cigar Shop on Calle 7 reiterated this concern and said that the store has seen less and less revenue come in since 2012.
The law made a strict list of private and public spaces where smoking is prohibited, and workers from the Ministerio de Salud make regular check-ups on the private businesses or public spaces. Among those that where people are legally barred from smoking are medical centers, restaurants, bars, malls, offices, and public transportation areas.
After another police seizure of smuggled and illegally sold cigarettes this week, it’s clear there are those still trying to subvert the law and its corresponding taxes. Monday Fuerza Pública officials reported that they confiscated a supply of Silver Elephant cigarettes from China that entered the country without payment of the import duty.
Tax initiated by the finance ministry calls for a 20 -colon tax on each cigarette and also pass through sales, luxury, and import or production taxes.
Where does the tax go? According to Ley 9028, 60 percent is given to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social for the study, treatment, and prevention of tobacco-related illnesses and cancers. Some 20 percent goes to the Ministerio
de Salud. The other 20 percent is divided between the Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia and the Instituto Costarricense del Deporte y la Recreación.
Major global cigarette companies like British American Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds, and Philip Morris sell their products in Costa Rica. Popular brands sold in the country include Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Viceroy, and Pall Mall.
According to the Instituto Alcoholísmo y Farmacodependencia, around 540,000 Costa Ricans are smokers and the Ministerio de Salud points out that 10 people die per day from tobacco-related illnesses. The Caja has estimated in the past that about 15 percent of the country’s population smoke.
The President of Uruguay, José Mujíca, recently met with Barack Obama and said cigarette smoking is comparable to mass murder since 8 million people are said to be dying per year from smoking. Uruguay is currently facing a $25 million lawsuit from Philip Morris because of its anti-tobacco laws.