Brazil Widens War on Tobacco

Brazil is widening its war against tobacco.

The Brazilian government is a presidential signature away from passing a law that would not only ban smoking in enclosed public places nationwide, but also extend restrictions more than previously thought.

But the new law would increase restrictions making it illegal to light up in smoking rooms, or in airports and bars, ban cigarette advertisements everywhere cigarettes are sold, and increase taxes on cigarettes by up to 300%.

Although some legislators fought the bill, the Ministry of Health and supporters of the government did not back down. “We cannot support any kind of amendment to stop our continuous agenda to restrict cigarettes”, said a speaker for the ministry.

The new federal law is based on states legislation already in effect in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paraná.

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According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), Brazil has over 30 million smokers. The number of smokers in the country  has fallen 45% in the last 20 years.

The smoking restrictions have generate some anger with the public, but also sympathizers. In São Paulo, the anti-smoking law is supported by 91% of general public and even 83% of the smokers. São Paulo state officials say the law has led 42% of the smokers to smoke less.

“The society is starting to realize the risks of cigarettes and wants environments free of smoke”, affirmed Maria Cristina Megid, director of the Center for Health Surveillance of São Paulo.

But not everyone thinks this kind of legislation is positive.

“Nobody is worried about the smokers. We should be treated as adults not kids”, Milena Hannud, founder of the NGO Eu Fumo (I Smoke), complained on a local website.

The Brazilian war on smoking may also hurt some economic groups, particularly small farmers from the South of the country and tobacco corporations.

According to the president of the Brazilian Association of Tobacco Growers, Benício Albano Werner, most of the farmers are very worried about the restrictions.

“There is a climate of apprehension about these very excessive restrictions to the free trade”, affirmed Werner. But he says that the farmers and the industry are adapting themselves to this new reality.

“We have to focus on exports. Fortunately, we have the quality to do it. In Canada and China, the consumption is increasing,” Werner concluded.

Brazil is the second biggest tobacco producer in the world with revenues of over US$ 7 billion a year. Tobacco accounts for 2% of country's exports.

Luís Henrique Vieira is a freelance writer in Brazil.

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