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Uruguay implements smoking ban

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March 14, 2006

Uruguay implements smoking ban

by Salvatore Ciolfi

Uruguay has become the first country in Latin America to pass anti-smoking legislation. The new laws, which came into effect at midnight on March 1st, are similar to the amendments Quebec made to its smoking laws and mirror those already implemented in Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Spain. They will prohibit smoking in all enclosed public places, including bars, restaurants, government and private office buildings and shopping malls.

The restrictions are already being considered among the most stringent in the world, though this is hardly a surprise, as current Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is a practising oncologist. Prior to the laws' implementation, his government stated that smoking causes 5,500 tobacco-related deaths a year in the country of 3.4 million people.

"Passive smoking is also linked to chronic disease and premature deaths. Since there's not a secure level of exposure, the best thing to do is to ban cigarettes in enclosed places," argued Vazquez.

To help promote the plan, the president launched a campaign called "A Million Thanks," which is a reference to the number of Uruguayan smokers. So far, the campaign seems to have won these people over, as an opinion poll conducted by the Ministry of Public Health states that close to 70% of the country's smokers support the legislation.

Nevertheless, it may be hard for most citizens to adapt to the new laws, as most Uruguayans are not only accustomed to smoking at work and in schools, but also to seeing tobacco advertising. The locally made, and controversially visible 'Nevada' brand is the most popular cigarette in the country. As recently as 2002, 'Nevada' caused international concern when they sponsored Uruguay's national soccer team in the World Cup. The act was especially galling as the tournament coincided with the launch of the World Health Organization's World No-Tobacco Day, whose theme was "Tobacco Free Sports."

Cuba and Argentina have also taken their first steps with smoking restrictions. In fact, on the same day that Uruguay went smoke-free, authorities in Buenos Aires implemented a ban on smoking in municipal buildings, with the aim of later extending the ban to all public places. Cuba passed similar measures last year, but these laws have yet to be enforced in Castro's cigar-loving island nation.

Salvatore Ciolfi

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