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Graphic Warnings Begin to Appear on Cigarette Packs in Costa Rica

September 22, 2014

Costa Rica has taken another important step to protect public health from the terrible toll of tobacco use, which is the number one cause of preventable death worldwide.

Starting last week, pictorial warning labels are required on cigarette packs sold in Costa Rica. The new warnings cover 50 percent of both the front and back of cigarette packs and feature gruesome images depicting the consequences of smoking, as well as text warnings. Retailers and suppliers have a two-month grace period to sell their stock of old packs.

Costa Rica joins 13 other countries in Latin America – and at least 62 countries worldwide – in requiring graphic cigarette warnings.

These countries include Uruguay, which is currently fighting a lawsuit brought by tobacco giant Philip Morris International over its warnings and other tobacco control measures. Increasingly, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are challenging tobacco control measures as violations of trade and investment agreements as they seek to bully countries into adopting weak laws, or none at all. The case is currently being heard by an arbitration panel affiliated with the World Bank.

Costa Rica’s new warnings come a little more than two years after the country passed comprehensive tobacco control legislation and six years after it signed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty. Along with the health warning requirement, the law prohibits smoking in public areas, increases tobacco taxes and severely restricts the advertising of tobacco products.

Tobacco kills about six million people worldwide each year and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless countries take strong action to prevent it. By enacting the graphic health warnings and other effective measures, Costa Rica has joined a movement sweeping across Latin America aimed at curbing tobacco use and saving lives.