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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkHealth & Beauty | February 2008 

Will Mexico 'Smoke Out' its Smokers?
email this pageprint this pageemail usAllan Wall - PVNN


The Department of Health is to set up a hotline for people to squeal on smokers.
 
On February 21st, the Mexican Senate is scheduled to vote on an anti-tobacco measure which, if it becomes law, would severely restrict public smoking nationwide.

This proposed law is not to be confused with a Mexico City smoking restriction law which is only for that city. The new measure is for the whole country.

Smoking tobacco has a long history in Mexico. It was practiced by the Mayan culture at least since the 900s. A carving from a temple in Palenque, Chiapas, portrays a Mayan priest smoking.

Tobacco was part of Aztec mythology – an Aztec goddess known as Cihuacoahuatl was portrayed as having a body of tobacco. Aztec priests carrying out human sacrifice donned tobacco gourds as part of their costumes while aristocratic Aztec banquets began with the distribution of smoking tubes.

Tobacco was used throughout the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere.

After Columbus’ arrival in 1492, European sailors took tobacco to far-flung corners of the Old World, where it became a part of many cultures worldwide.

Mexico is a profitable market for big tobacco. The most popular brand is Marlboro, accounting for nearly half of all cigarette sales in the country.

Tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris sells over 60% of all the cigarettes sold.

It’s also estimated that about 150 Mexicans die a week from tobacco-related health problems. This costs Mexico a lot of money, not only in medical expenses but too in the impact it has on the labor force and on Mexican families.

History’s first known smoking ban was enacted in 1590 by Pope Urban VII, who prohibited (under pain of excommunication) the use of tobacco in churches. In the 1600s and 1700s there were smoking bans in various parts of German-speaking Europe, which were all repealed after the Revolutions of 1848.

The first government to really go after tobacco was the Nazi regime in Germany, which was strongly anti-tobacco and carried out major publicity campaigns against its use. The Nazis banned tobacco use in universities, post offices, military hospitals and Nazi Party offices.

In the latter part of the 20th century smoking bans were enacted in various U.S. states, and in Europe, and have continued to be strengthened in many countries despite opposition from tobacco companies (obvious reasons), restaurants (business reasons), and civil libertarians ( philosophical principles).

In comparison to the U.S. and Europe, Mexico has been a little slow in the enactment of such laws but it is catching up quick.

A 2003 Mexican law stipulated that restaurants must reserve 40% of their space for non-smokers and have ventilation systems that would remove the smoke. That legislation banned smoking in such public venues as hospitals, banks, public restrooms and government offices.

Last month the aforementioned Mexico City law came into effect.

The new federal anti-smoking law would prohibit smoking in offices, schools, restaurants and cafeterias. There can still be designated smoking areas but they must be in the open air, or in isolated rooms.

Fines are set to run from $5,000 pesos (for individual smokers) to $5 million pesos (for businesses).

The measure has already been approved by the Cámara de Diputados (House of Representatives). On Feb. 14th, the Senate Commissions of Health, Environment and Legislative Studies approved the new General Law for the Control of Tobacco. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on it February 21st.

If it passes the Senate, it need only be sent to the president and published in the Diario Oficial de la Federación, and 90 days thereafter it becomes law. It also includes a 6-month period for businesses to prepare their designated smoking areas.

The law has noble aspirations, but many questions could be raised about tobacco prohibitions. Banning tobacco in a government building is one thing, but banning it in a private restaurant quite another.

There are also questions about enforcement. The Department of Health is to set up a hotline for people to squeal on smokers. How will that work? Will Mexican police, already battling drug cartels, be tasked with running down smokers?

And what about corrupt officials, will they take bribes from smokers and businesses to look the other way?

A civil libertarian might ask if protecting the citizens’ health is a legitimate responsibility of government anyway. What’s next, fining people who overeat or have a high cholesterol level?

These are questions that could be asked about the new anti-tobacco law. However it looks like a done deal, barring unforeseen developments.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.

Click HERE for more articles by Allan Wall.



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