Smoking Still Big in Cuba

Daniel Benítez  (Cafe Fuerte)

Cuban smokers. The habit is common among young people.
Cuban smokers. The habit is common among young people.

HAVANA TIMES — According to a survey conducted by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), more than 50 percent of Cuba’s population is exposed to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, as one of every four persons over 15 is an active smoker.

The study revealed that three out of every 10 men are smokers and that 16 percent of all Cuban women are nicotine addicts. Dr. Patricia Varona, coordinator of MINSAP’s Special Lung Cancer Work Group, offered the Agencia Cubana de Noticias (“Cuban News Agency”) this information and said that nine million people were interviewed as part of the health department’s third survey on risk factors associated to smoking.

Nicotine addiction accounts for more than 80 percent of lung cancer cases and deaths among the island’s population.

Dr. Varona added that the survey also gathered data such as gender, age, skin color, educational level and profession.

Early Starters

The results of this study revealed to government entities that smoking habits are least common among university students, while people aged 40 to 50 constitute the country’s largest group of smokers.

The survey showed that the average starting age is 17. An expert pointed out, however, that there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of people who start smoking between the age of 13 and 15.

Two years ago, the World Smoking Survey, conducted by MINSAP in Cuba, revealed that young people in Cuba are among the heaviest smokers in all of Latin America. A total of 3,000 students in 456 different secondary schools across the country were interviewed as part of the survey.

According to the data provided by Varona, some 1,500 Cubans die every year of lung cancer and heart disease alone. Both conditions are closely linked to tobacco consumption. Malign tumors and heart conditions are the country’s two major causes of death. In 2013, they claimed the lives of 45,519 people.

The dangerous habit can also cause cancer of the pharynges, larynges, esophagus, bladder, urinary and biliary tracts, pancreas, kidney, stomach, liver and cervix.

2 thoughts on “Smoking Still Big in Cuba

  • What you are referring to in the US is imposing a ‘sin tax’ to discourage smokers from purchasing cigarettes as well as to raise funds to pay for anti-smoking campaigns. In Cuba, the Castro regime seems to take a different perspective on public ‘vices’ like smoking and drinking. Early on in the revolution, the Castros realized that in their effort to placate the masses, easy access to cigarettes, rum and prostitution went a long way toward keeping people calm and quiet. As a result, there will always be cheap cigarettes, cheap rum and cheap sex available to meet public demand despite public anti-smoking campaigns, warning labels on rum bottles and a tepid policing of prostitution. Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” and Fidel says “let ’em smoke, drink and get laid”.

  • When I was in Cuba, I was quite surprised at the price of cigarettes. 0.30 CUC for cheap cigarettes all the way up to 3.50CUC for Lucky Strikes. I ended up purchasing a pack of H. Upmann Cigarettes from a machine for 0.60CUC, and before I knew it, I had smoked the whole pack. I spent the next six months fending off nicotine cravings every time I walked outside.
    Long story short, I bought the cigarettes because they were so cheap. While I realize it is a significant cost at Cuba’s current average salary, it still becomes very easy to start smoking simply out of boredom. Maybe it is time to adjust how cigarettes are sold to the public. Changes in cigarette cost structure as well as public health movements to help with quitting have been quite successful in the US.

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