by Susan Dearing
Mexico’s Senate approved a bill on February 26, 2008 that would ban smoking in workplaces, public buildings, restaurants, bars, hospitals and public transportation (taxis and busses) across the country.
The bill, approved 101-5 with two abstentions, had already passed the lower house of Congress. Businesses were given 180 days after the law’s enactment to comply, which was August 28.
The new law would also ban a common practice in Mexico in which street vendors sell individual cigarettes, instead allowing only the sale of full packs. Businesses could face fines of up to $50,000 USD or closure if they fail to comply with the federal measures.
The new law sets a minimum standard of protection for nonsmokers nationwide, leaving state and local legislatures free to pass even tougher limits.
Joining a string of newly smoke-free countries from Britain to Uruguay, Mexico will slap fines on establishments that breach the ban, and could subject recalcitrant smokers caught illicitly puffing to up to 36 hours in jail.
Yesterday, in Manzanillo's new casino, "Juego, Juego," smokers were informed that it was their last day to light up inside. Smoking in bars and restaurants will now only be permitted in totally enclosed rooms with separate ventilation systems or on open-air terraces.
Many Mexicans use cigarettes socially, filling bars and cantinas with clouds of smoke, and it is still viewed as acceptable for politicians and executives to light up during business meetings. In the photo on the left, Pedro, owner of Pedro's Cazuela Grill on Miramar Beach, welcomes smokers. He is glad that he has an open air restaurant on the beach and is not subject to the new law. His friend Philipe adds that he will only patronize restaurants and bars that allow smoking.
The new law also calls for larger warnings on cigarette packets and images of damage to internal organs from inhaling tobacco. In Mexico, smoking is responsible for some 65,000 cigarette-related deaths each year. Mexico counts around 13 million smokers among its population of 105 million, but some researchers say the actual amount of adults smoking is closer to 50 million, or almost half the population.
The law also gives authorities the right to close shops that sell tobacco to children. While it isn't clear which "authorities" are going to be doing the enforcement, Manzanillo restaurants, bars, and other businesses are complying, as are the patrons. "I guess I'll just have to smoke at home, and not stay as long at the casino," one customer said. In another restaurant, a client thought it was a good thing. "It makes me smoke less," he offered. Still another smoker who went into a local business said he was already aware that his habit offends people. "There are many people I don't smoke around, and several restaurants I don't smoke in. It will make me smoke less, and maybe I'll be able to quit some day."
Non-smokers are elated. "Finally I'll be able to go in a restaurant and breathe," a patron stated. "You have no idea how many times I've changed tables so I could be away from someone smoking. I'm glad that Mexico's secretary of health has taken the initiative that so many others have. One of the reasons I don't patronize certain restaurants is that I can't take the smoke--especially cigars."
While Americans and Canadians are used to smoking bans in their countries, it will take Mexicans quite a while to get used to it, especially in restaurants and bars, such as El Vaquero, where businessmen congregate. Fortunately, there are many thatched-roof, open air restaurants around, so smokers will still be able to puff while they and eat and drink.
According to Governor Silverio Ceballos, and Secretary of Health José Salazar Aviña, second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer, and heart and respiratory problems, including death. In the case of children exposed to passive smoke they are 20% more likely to have asthma and lung or ear infections, Aviña said. Their goal in Manzanillo is to have a majority of areas smoke-free, with restricted zones for smokers. Aviña urges smokers to make a decision to quit, but if they must light up, avoid smoking around children, the elderly, the infirm, pregnant women, or persons with a disability. While some said this day would never come, it has in Manzanillo.