By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press Writer
Cuba, known for its world-famous cigars, will soon ask smokers of those fine stogies, and the island’s unfiltered black tobacco cigarettes, to step outside.
Beginning on Feb. 7, smoking will be prohibited in theaters, stores, buses, taxis and other enclosed public areas under a new resolution published in Cuba’s most recent National Gazette by the Commerce Ministry.
Smoking will also be banned in closed restaurants and cafeterias, except in specially designated nonsmoking areas. Cigarette machines will be taken down.
There was no word if smoking would be allowed in bars.
The resolution said the move was “taking into account the damage to human health caused by the consumption of cigarettes and cigars, with the objective of contributing to a change in the attitudes of our population.”
The resolution will also suspend sales of cigarettes to children under age 16 and at stores less than 100 meters (yards) from schools.
People employed in education and health jobs will no longer be allowed to smoke at work, and other government workers will have to go outside the buildings where they work to light up.
At the same time, the Cuban government will launch public service campaigns aimed at encouraging people to kick the habit, and health warnings will be required on cigarette packages.
According to government statistics, four of every 10 Cubans smoke, and 30 percent of 15,000 deaths from preventable cancers each year can be linked to smoking.
But tolerance for the habit here has been slowly waning and even President Fidel Castro gave up smoking cigars years ago.
At the same time, Castro himself has acknowledged the economic importance of cigar exports, which generate about US$200 million annually.
“We historically have been producers of tobacco and we cannot renounce that,” Castro joked to a group of students in 2003.
“When we give a box of cigars to a friend, we say: ‘You can smoke them, or you can give them to a friend who smokes,” Castro said then. “But the best thing to do is give them to your enemy.”