Daniel Benítez (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities are currently working on a new anti-tobacco legislation that will provide the framework for tougher restrictions on smokers and strengthen commercial limitations on tobacco-derived products, in a country where 36 people die every day because of complications related to the dangerous habit.
The new legislation, chiefly consisting in proposals to make current regulations stricter and include measures that have proven efficient internationally and could be applied in Cuba, has already been advanced, explained Dr. Elba Lorenzo, national coordinator for the Smoking Prevention and Control Program.
The initiative was made public during the last part of a series of reports published by Cuba’s Juventud Rebelde newspaper, prompted by the alarming proliferation of smokers and of smoking-related conditions and deaths on the island.
Exposure to Smoke
Though since 2005, smoking is prohibited in closed public spaces, public transportation, educational, health and sporting institutions, recent studies reveal that neither current legislation nor an awareness campaign have been able to prevent that more than 50 percent of the population from being exposed to cigarette smoke at home, work or in public spaces.
The establishment of a new, comprehensive “anti-smoking law” in Cuba would be aimed at securing more positive results through the Smoking Prevention and Control Program and at strengthening the legislative framework that enforces compliances with current regulations, the experts commented.
The new legislation is being drawn up by the National Commission of the national program for nicotine addiction and will operate in conjunction with central administrative state entities as well as grassroots, student and political organizations, Lorenzo explained.
In addition to reiterating provisions that forbid smoking in closed spaces and the sale of tobacco products to people under 18, the proposed legislation will include restrictions on the promotion and sponsoring of tobacco products in the country, prohibit their sale at health, educational and sporting institutions and the sale of single units or packages with less than 20 cigarettes. It will also raise the prices of tobacco products.
More Severe Fines
The new legislation will also require graphic warnings on cigarette packs sold in the country, alerting about the dangers of nicotine addiction, strict compliance with smoking norms and higher fines for those who break existing laws.
In addition, Ministerial Resolution 275 of 2003, issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), established by the Sanitary Registry for manufactured tobacco products, is currently being reviewed.
The alarm regarding the effects of nicotine addiction in Cuban society was sounded after cancer was determined to be the first cause of death in the country and the fact that 36 Cubans die every day as a result of conditions attributed to tobacco consumption.
As many as 13,301 people, 9,100 of whom are males, die every year due to nicotine addiction.
Such statistics could not be more harrowing for a country with a little over 11 million inhabitants and where the smoking of cigarettes and cigars per capita among people over 15 increased by 4.8 percent during 2013. Smoking-related deaths represent 15 percent of the total on the island.
According to the conclusions published in Juventud Rebelde, the issue is fairly serious, for one out of every four Cubans actively smokes and more than half of the island’s inhabitants are exposed to dangerous cigarette smoke.
These figures reveal the inefficiency of all current campaigns aimed at preventing cigarette smoking and how accessible tobacco products are for the majority of the population.
Despite the fact that a pack of cigarettes can cost 0.50 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos), some 12.50 Cuban Pesos (CUP) at the official exchange rate, a packet can be purchased for 7 CUP in the broad network of State cafeterias and stores, and a cigar can be bought for as little as a single Cuban peso. (1 peso = 0.05 usd)
The newspaper quotes a study conducted in 2011, the 3rd Survey on Risk Factors of Non-Transmissible Diseases, which polled nine million people and is recognized as the most important study on the issue to date. The study yielded significant results, such as the fact that 36.4 percent of those interviewed smoked at least once in their lives, and that two out of every 10 women and three out of every 10 men are addicted to cigarettes.
As much as 53 percent of all black and mixed raced people on the island claim to be smokers, a figure that nearly doubles the number of white people who smoke (24 percent).
Dr. Lorenzo urged the mass media to avoid promoting tobacco products, whose consumption, according to the newspaper, appears to be fashionable among Cuba’s teenagers and young.