Chile has already banned smoking in restaurants, bars, cinemas and the like in 2013. However, a new legislation which has passed the Chilean Senate and is currently before the lower house seeks to tighten the rules. The bill requires cigarette makers to use identical packaging covered in chilling anti-smoking ads, limit smoking at beaches and parks to small, designated areas and most infuriatingly for the tobacco industry, ban menthol cigarettes, the flavor of choice for 40% of Chilean smokers. This tough anti-smoking bill is trying to get nicotine-hooked Chile to kick the habit, but has provoked a backlash from the powerful tobacco industry.
Chile has the highest percentage of smokers of any country in Latin America. 28% of adults smoke at least once a day, revealed the World Health Organization. Health officials informed that in this country of some 18 million, some 46 people die here every day of smoking-related illnesses.
The country is also home to a $2-billion tobacco industry that directly or indirectly creates some 15,000 jobs, according to the National Agriculture Society. The proposed law has drawn a bitter reaction from British American Tobacco (BAT), the London-based multinational cigarette giant, which sells 13 billion cigarettes a year in Chile, 90% of the local market. Carlos Lopez, head of corporate affairs for BAT Chile, said, "If they pass the bill as it stands today, we'll close our factory."
Lopez slammed the bill's 'disproportionate' and 'often illegal' provisions on generic packaging and the 'scientifically unfounded' ban on menthol. BAT warns the measures would fuel a thriving black market, which it claims has already expanded by 400% in the past five years.
If the bill is passed, Chile could become the first country in the world to ban menthol cigarettes nationwide. Some health officials said that the additive is aimed at getting children hooked by giving cigarettes a cool mint flavor and making them less harsh to smoke. European Union (EU) lawmakers voted to outlaw menthol cigarettes last year. But the ban will only take effect in 2022 and then only if it survives various legal challenges.
The proposed law also has Chile's 500 tobacco farmers on edge.