Cuba, the country long associated with fine cigars, has abruptly decided to take steps to ban smoking in public.
According to The Independent, the law on smoking in public will come into effect within a fortnight.
Cubans are obviously not going to take kindly to this development, as according to official figures, nearly 50 percent of the country’s adult population loves to have a puff. The ban on public smoking seems all the more perplexing in view of the fact that the government had been encouraging the habit until now. Anyone born before 1955 gets four packets of non-filtered cigarettes as part of their monthly ration of basic foodstuffs at a special discount price of around four pence each. The regular price is around 15 pence a pack.
Now, according to the paper, this addiction to tobacco has prompted President Fidel Castro into changing track and give priority to healthcare and seriously take note of the number of deaths linked to smoking.
The resolution published this week says 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.”
Castro has been setting an example for nearly 20 years. Older pictures show him always sitting in a blue haze of smoke, a cigar between his fingers. But, in fact, he gave up in 1986. And two years ago, he hinted at his own growing distaste for smoking when he offered advice to his people on the best means of disposing of a box of Coronas. “The best thing to do is give them to your enemy,” he quipped. (Inconveniently for him, George Bush is not a cigar smoker either.)
For the Cubans, come February 6, and they will have to snuff out their smokes in offices, shops, theatres, cinemas, buses and taxis, schools, sports facilities and all air-conditioned buildings. Restaurants and clubs will have to cordon off smoking areas. It is not clear how the rules will apply to bars.
Kids will have to be 16 or older to buy cigarettes, whereas until now no age restrictions have been in force. Nor will shops a short distance from schools be allowed to sell tobacco products. Cigarette vending machines will also be banned entirely.
Cigars generate about 200 million dollars in export revenue, but sugar is more important to Cuba than tobacco while agriculture itself accounts for only 5 per cent of the country’s economy. Far more important are services and tourism.