Costa Rica tries to go smoke-free

Felipe Sanchez and Maria Aleman share a pack of cigarettes and talk over a couple bottles of beer early one evening at the Bahamas Bar.

Costa Rica Map

Costa Rica map

Their tobacco smoke lingers out of the bar, passing by the bartender, who lights his own cigarette, and wafts right by the bouncer who fiddles with a lighter in his hand.

Some 14.2 percent of Costa Ricans smoke, most between ages 20 and 39, according to the Costa Rican Social Security System. Casual smokers proliferate in the country’s nightlife.

But that could change soon. Lawmakers last week passed a bill that will ban smoking in all public spaces, including bus and taxi stops, public buildings, restaurants and bars.

The legislation goes further: It prohibits the sale of individual cigarettes; adds a 4-cent tax per cigarette, bumping up the price of most 20-cigarette packs from around $2 to $2.80; bans cigarette advertising; and mandates that most of the box must carry graphic or textual health warnings.

The bill will be reviewed by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court before it can get the president’s signature and go into law.

Costa Rica is considered a progressive country on health and environment policies, but it’s been slow to reform its lax smoking rules.

If the court gives the green light, Costa Rica will become the 10th Latin American country to enact a law following guidelines set by the World Health Organization for 100 percent smoke-free public spaces.

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