Costa Rica’s tobacco control law benefits Ticos and tourists alike

In March 2012, after an arduous process of discussion and lobbying, Costa Rica’s national legislative and executive branches approved and promulgated the General Tobacco Control Act.

The main objective of this Act is to establish the necessary measures to protect the people from the health, social, environmental and economic consequences of the consumption of tobacco and exposure to tobacco smoke. The Regulation to the Law was published on June 26, 2012

The expected results of the implementation of this Act include:

  • Minimize exposure of people to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke
  • Reduce the number of people affected by smoking-related health, social and environmental damage of tobacco addiction
  • Prevent children and adolescents from smoking initiation
  • Protect the population by declaring public, commercial and cultural facilities 100% smoke free
  • Fund programs for prevention and cessation of smoking and health services through the creation of specific tobacco taxes
  • Eliminate advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products

Achievements

Monitoring compliance with the provisions of Law No. 9028:

The comprehensive law features a thorough monitoring program. Through its regional offices, the Ministry of Health conducted multiple actions to ensure effective compliance with the provisions of Law No. 9028 regarding signage and control of smoking in designated 100 percent smoke-free areas, including the following:

  • The Northern Huétar Region conducted outreach and awareness campaigns to educate the population on the Law’s requirements
  • The Chorotega Region through its 12 governing areas made ​​visits to local and commercial establishments to verify placement of the official label promoting tobacco smoke-free environments, meetings were held with stakeholders to disseminate Law No. 9028, and educational messages and information was promoted in local media (radio and television) and through the use of mass emails addressed to certain social actors involved in the issue.
  • In the Atlantic Huétar Region in the Guácimo Area, 279 establishments have been certified as smoke-free spaces, confirmed through weekly monitoring to verify compliance with the Act.
  • The Central Pacific Region achieved 100 percent coverage of local governments and key stakeholders to monitor the verification of compliance in facilities through field work and with the support of local governments, police, media, and private companies.
  • Collection of approximately 15 billion colones (US$27Mn) for tobacco control

Article 22 of Law No. 9028 mandated the creation of a specific tax for cigarettes and similar products.

The same law provides that 60 percent of the resources collected should be allocated ​​to the Costa Rican

Social Security Fund (CCSS) to be used in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases associated with smoking, including cancer.

The rest of the money is disbursed as follows: 20 percent to the Ministry of Health to fulfill the duties entrusted by law, 10 percent to the Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (IAFA), and 10 percent to the Costa Rican Institute of Sport and Recreation (ICODER) for the performance of their duties related to sports and recreation.

During 2012 an amount close to 15 billion colones was raised through the tobacco tax. By 2013 the amount collected was an estimated 37 billion colones (US$67Million).

Health warnings included on cigarette packs and secondary packaging

A total of six sets of health warning designs were issued to be included in primary and secondary tobacco packaging.   Fifty percent of the front and back, and one of the side faces, are required to be dedicated exclusively to pictorial and informational messages regarding the harmful effects of tobacco.

These designs were officially communicated to the producers and distributors of tobacco products. For the most part, all of the producers and distributors responded immediately with considerable commitment to “make things right.”

One of the tobacco companies, Seneca, offered to begin in June and already have approved designs. However, two companies tried to delay the deployment date of the health warnings but received only a two-month extension. The law, its regulation and the ministerial directive are well constructed so it has been difficult for tobacco companies for find loopholes. These designs are set to start service on 19 September 2014.

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Key Success Factors

In the first phase it was very important to have a broad awareness-building campaign to share information with the public through press conferences, infomercials and other arenas which ensured the participation of many establishments without having to exercise administrative measures. It is also worth mentioning that some of the tobacco companies made an approach to learn and coordinate the proper use of designs to include health warnings on packaging.

Key Challenges

The biggest challenge was to generate awareness among the population, especially among current smokers, of the implementation of the 9028 Act, particularly regarding the obligation to respect the areas declared as smoke-free. On the other hand, even when there is a large budget to work on the topic, implementation is difficult because the service sector is extensive.

Observations

The impact of the 9028 Act can be seen almost at first sight upon entering virtually any property or commercial establishment in the country. You do not find anyone smoking in these areas. You can go confidently to almost any bar or disco without smelling tobacco smoke.

About the Author: Dr. Juan de Dios Jaime Rumoroso Solís is the Dirección de Promoción de la Salud, Ministerio de Salud, Costa Rica