HAVANA – The country known for its high-quality cigars banned smoking of all kinds in public places Monday, as the Cuban government acknowledged the health risk of tobacco.
Smoking will be banned in restaurants, except in designated areas, and cigarette machines also will be removed. The law will also suspend sales of cigarettes to children under 16 and at stores fewer than 100 yards from schools.
According to government statistics, four of every 10 Cubans smoke, and 30 percent of the 15,000 deaths from preventable cancers each year can be linked to smoking.
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."
Tobacco is the communist-run island's third-largest export — producing an average of 150 million hand-rolled cigars worth about $200 million a year — and is recognized worldwide for its quality.
"We are going to suffer, but we weren't born smoking," parking attendant Enrique Perez said in an outdoor parking lot Monday, a burning cigarette dangling from his hand. "It's good to give up the vice."
But some Cubans didn't seem to know, or care, and continued to light up their black tobacco cigarettes in enclosed areas now designated as nonsmoking.
"I won't give you my name," a woman worker in an office building in Old Havana (search) said as she stubbed out her filterless cigarette in a hallway ashtray by the elevator.
Some said the prohibition would be hard to enforce, especially because the government has not said what penalties the new rule could carry.
"How will they convince the people if they don't say what the fine is?" asked Rolando Duran, a 40-year-old who acknowledged to smoking occasionally at social gatherings.
Nevertheless, Duran said he welcomed the new rules, as did numerous ex-smokers.
"Smoking kills," said former smoker taxi driver Eduardo Bossa, who said he was happy that he could now prohibit his fares from lighting up in his cab.
Cuban President Fidel Castro, who gave up smoking years ago, once joked about giving away boxes of cigars, saying, "The best thing to do is give them to your enemy."