Colombia Takes Action to Save Lives… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Colombia Takes Action to Save Lives by Implementing Sweeping Smoke-Free Decree

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 05, 2008

Washington, DC — The government of Colombia took historic action this week to protect the health and lives of its citizens by implementing a sweeping smoke-free decree that applies to all indoor workplaces and public places. The decree was first introduced in May of 2008 and went into effect this week. It requires that all indoor workplaces and public places be smoke-free, including restaurants, bars, public transportation and medical and educational institutes.

The smoke-free decree is a major step forward in protecting the health of Colombia's 46 million residents and workers from the deadly effects of secondhand smoke and adds momentum to the growing smoke-free movement in Latin American and the world.

In Latin America, Colombia joins Uruguay, Panama, Mexico and five Argentinean provinces in having strong smoke-free laws and policies. In Guatemala, strong smoke-free legislation is awaiting the signature of President Alvaro Colom. Worldwide, other countries and jurisdictions that have adopted strong smoke-free laws include Bermuda, Bhutan, Djibouti, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Ireland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In Australia, Canada and the United States, a growing number of states, provinces and territories have adopted smoke-free laws.

In April 2008, Colombia acceded to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world's first international health treaty. Colombian Vice Minister of Health Carlos Ignacio Cuervo first announced the smoke-free decree in keeping with the treaty's requirement to protect all citizens from the proven dangers of tobacco smoke

In Colombia, 17 percent of the adult population smokes. The Colombian government has recognized that all citizens have a right to breathe clean, smoke-free air. The science is beyond dispute: Secondhand smoke is harmful and deadly. Public health authorities worldwide, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have concluded that secondhand tobacco smoke is a major cause of serious diseases and premature death in non-smoking adults and children. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 60 known to cause cancer. It is scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and low birth weight.

Tobacco use already kills 5.4 million people a year worldwide. Unchecked, that number is projected to rise to more than eight million by 2030, with more than 80 percent of these deaths in developing nations. With more than 25,000 deaths each year in Colombia due to tobacco-related illnesses, we congratulate the Colombian government for taking action to begin reducing these staggering numbers.

Facts about Secondhand Smoke and Smoke-Free Laws

  • Everyone has a right to breathe clean air. The scientific evidence is clear that the only effective way to protect workers and the public from secondhand smoke is 100 percent smoke-free environments. Smoke-free laws must not permit any smoking indoors and must apply to all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues. Designated smoking areas and separate ventilation do not provide adequate health protections. Scientific authorities have concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • The WHO international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, requires 100 percent smoke-free areas without exceptions. Formal guidelines on implementing the treaty's provisions on secondhand smoke, adopted by the treaty's governing body in 2007, provide that only 100 percent smoke-free laws that include all indoor workplaces and public places meet the treaty's requirements.
  • Smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. Numerous scientific studies have found that smoke-free laws do not have a negative impact on the hospitality or tourism industry and in some cases may have had a positive impact.