(AP) - Uruguayans are saying "adios" to tobacco smoke in the
workplace, shopping malls and many other enclosed public spaces,
thanks to a new law promoted by a local cancer specialist - who also
happens to be the nation's president.
The law, which went
into effect Wednesday, aims to reshape the habits of as many as 1
million smokers in this small South American nation and penalizes
lighting up in offices, shops, restaurants and other indoor
Leftist President Tabare Vazquez, a practicing
oncologist who saw patients even as he took office, had pushed for
the law. Its implementation coincides with the first anniversary of
his taking office.
The law authorizes Public Health Ministry
inspectors to levy penalties of $1,000 or more on businesses where
people smoke against the rules. Fines increase for repeat offenders,
and businesses could even be shut down
Anti-smoking groups estimate that as many as a
third of Uruguay's 3.4 million people smoke. Vazquez has cited
reports suggesting about seven people die each day in Uruguay from
smoking-related causes including lung cancer, emphysema and other
Uruguay's Congress passed the law late last
Vazquez noted that similar measures "have been
implemented with success in many parts of the world," citing
smoke-free laws in Norway and New Zealand, among others.
some smokers are already grumbling.
On Wednesday, even as
no-smoking signs were going up in government offices and
restaurants, some said the law was overly restrictive and among the
toughest in Latin America.
"I either stop smoking or I now
start eating in the street or the park," said Roberto Enriquez, a
middle-age civil servant, who said he normally smokes in restaurants
on his lunch break.
"I smoke two packs a day," Enriquez said
as he enjoyed one of his last legal puffs in a state bank downtown
before the law took effect.
At one pizza restaurant with a
no-smoking sign, indoor tables were empty during the lunch-hour
crush. But the restaurant's sidewalk tables were full of patrons -
many of them smokers - debating what would happen when cold weather
forces them inside.
Though common in the United States,
smoking restrictions are still relatively rare and mild south of the
border. In some parts of Mexico, restaurants now are required to
have a nonsmoking section, and Cuba last year restricted smoking -
even cigars - in most public places. Jamaica and Bermuda are
considering imposing limits.
Last month, Puerto Rican
lawmakers also passed a tough law banning smoking in many public
places, including in cars carrying passengers younger than 13. The
U.S. Caribbean territory's governor has promised to sign the bill,
despite objections from some who say it could hurt
Patrick Reynolds, founder of the U.S.-based
Foundation for a Smokefree America, praised Uruguay for joining
other Latin American nations that have moved to curb
"There is no safe level of secondhand smoke,"
Reynolds said. "It causes lung cancer and heart disease, and they're