Awaiting a Real Smoking Ban in Cuba

Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — They said it on the national television news. This past August, Australia passed a strict law against tobacco. Now companies can no longer put colors, logos or other distinctive designs of their brands on packs of cigarettes. All the packets have to be olive green and include explicit warnings about the damage caused by that damned vice.

The news reminded me of the post by Erasmo on advertising for “Popular,” a Cuban cigarette brand. In it he proposed “changing the picture to a terminally ill cancer patient.”

Now, in Australia, the brands that they want to continue selling have to accept that 75 percent part of the front of the packs and 90 percent of the rear display images of mouths affected by cancer, blinded eyes and sick children.

While that occurs on one side of the world, we in Cuba continue to show fine health, beauty and dangerous subliminal messages on the packs of Popular and other brands.

Cuban tobacco continues to dominate on the world market; our media continues to give updates on the productivity of tobacco factories here, where products are either rolled by hand or manufactured by machines.

As for sales, Cuban cigars made by special methods have now grown by 11 percent since 2011. A single store, Romeo y Juliet in Centro Havana, can sell close to a million dollars worth in one year. The Habanos Corporacion SA, during the 14th Habanos Festival announced that sales in 2011 grew by nine percent, which generated revenues of $401 million for the island’s economy.

Taking into account the economic disaster that we’re suffering, one could accuse me of foolishness if I advocated the end of the commercialization of tobacco (despite the risk involved to health). It’s one of the island’s major and most profitable export goods.

However, this is that a serious issue must be treated in depth. We’re talking about the leading cause of preventable death in Cuba.

It’s not enough to just remove cigarettes and cigars from the list of rationed goods or to raise the prices on them to that of the free market, because these measures are taking into consideration only the economy, not the environment or people’s health.

At the closing of the recently concluded Habano Cigar Festival, nearly a million dollars was raised through auctions of humidors and cigars. I believe that every year that money is intended for the Cuban health care system, but I don’t know if that amount covers the annual cost of caring for cancer patients – and even if it does, isn’t it better to prevent than cure?

Though there exist legal instruments(1) in Cuba that regulate or prohibiting smoking in public places, it’s common to see health professionals smoking in hospital corridors, teachers in schools, drivers and passengers on buses, and food service workers on their jobs. No one enforces the few legal mechanisms in place.

It might be difficult to achieve here what was done in Australia, and not precisely because of rejection of the color olive green. But we could succeed by including pictures of seriously ill patients.

We can demand a change in the advertising of the various Cuban brands (increasing the size of the lettering of the Ministry of Public Health’s warning: “Health authorities warn: Smoking in harmful to your health”) to make people understand the real danger they’re exposed to when they buy cigarettes.

And we can add details like what I found in the 2010 National Tobacco Prevention and Control Program(2): In 2007 in Cuba, 15,083 people died from causes attributed to smoking, which meant two deaths every hour.


1. Ministerial Civil Aeronautics Institute Resolution 21/1999, the Ministry of Education Circular 4/1999, decisions of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers 3790/2000 and 5570/2005, the Ministry of Transport Indication 29/2005, Ministry of Public Health Resolution 360/2005, Ministry of Foreign Trade Resolution 302/2006 and regulations from the ministries of Health and Education.

2. In this same program more radical proposed changes were announced in the section “Compliance with Legal Regulations Currently in Effect.” It states:

Submit for approval by the appropriate authorities an executive order or act that contributes to the prevention and control of smoking, prepared by the Ministry of Public Health and reconciled with the different agencies of the central government and the mass, student and political organizations. Among other measures, this will include the following:

• prohibition of smoking indoors

• prohibition of the retail sale of cigarettes and packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes

• prohibition of sales to minors (those under 18 years of age)

• increases in the prices of tobacco products

• prohibition all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products in the country

• prohibition of the sale of tobacco products in health, educational (including universities) and sports facilities.

• improve MINSAP Ministerial Resolution No. 275-2003 and have compulsory “graphic” warnings included about the harm caused by smoking in 100 percent one of the main sides of cigarette packs sold in the country.

• eliminate the free supply of cigarettes or at reduced prices for state agencies.

• establish maximum rates of tar at 10 mg./cigarette, nicotine 1 mg./ cigarette and carbon monoxide at 10 mg./ cigarette for cigarettes sold in the country.

• strict penalties for violations

• increase the amounts of fines


6 thoughts on “Awaiting a Real Smoking Ban in Cuba

  • If not for all the smoking I would go to Cuba and spend lots of money.
    Think about that the next time you talk about the economic benefits of
    tobacco. What a backward country. (To the guy who thinks cigars are
    low-risk, you are in denial my friend)

  • Such kind of advertisements cannot help the government, smokers will still buy cigarettes no matter in what kind of packaging they are available.

  • Smoking bans do help to bring down the ratio of tobacco utilization, this is what every country is trying to do to save the health care expenditures.

  • This is certainly a poorly focused article. Mentioning “Cuban tobacco continues to dominate on the world market” is simply a red herring. Cuban cigarettes are sold nowhere but Cuba and many are made with tobacco and chemicals imported from Asia. The statistics about cigar sales have nothing to do with cigarette sales. Other than the few brand names that are common to both tobacco products, like H. Upmann for example, cigarettes like Popular or Hollywood have absolutely nothing in common with the Habanos sold at premium prices.
    There is no doubt that there are health risks associated with cigar smoking but the horrible photos mandated by other counties for cigarette packaging are of diseases caused by cigarette smoking, not cigar smoking.
    We should certainly discourage heavy use of cigarettes but please don’t confuse the issue by equating them with cigars.

  • I’m shocked that socialist Cuba is so backward with regard to cigarettes. The ads above are almost beyond belief.

    Doesn’t the PCC have a strategic program for the diminution and eventual elimination of smoking?

  • Please do not confuse cigars with cigarettes. Cigars are a relatively low-risk (in moderation) expression of Cuba’s culture, traditions and legacy. Cubans smoke far, far more cigarettes than cigars, so curbing their use is the issue here, and that would have an impact on the health care system. I realize the challenge in Cuba, where tobacco is so ingrained in the culture, but I believe you can celebrate one while demonizing the other (as strange as that sounds).

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