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Colombia Takes Strong Action to Protect Citizens from Tobacco Epidemic

July 24, 2009

Washington, D.C. – On July 21 Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed sweeping legislation (La Ley de Control del Tabaco 1335) making Colombia one of the leading Latin American countries to take comprehensive steps to protect its citizens from tobacco use, one of the world’s deadliest public health epidemics.

The new law requires that all indoor workplaces and public places be smoke-free immediately; prohibits tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship; requires large, pictorial health warnings on tobacco packaging; and mandates public education programs on the deadly effects of tobacco use. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joins international health advocates in congratulating Colombia for signing the life-saving measure into law.

“Tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century if current trends continue. Colombia can provide strong leadership in Latin America and save the lives of thousands of its citizens by implementing these proven measures to reduce tobacco use,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of Washington, DC-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“By signing this law, the Colombian government has recognized the importance of protecting the health of its citizens by aggressively reducing tobacco use,” said Dr. Elmer Huerta, a leading international tobacco control advocate and former President of the American Cancer Society. “This legislation is a wonderful example of how civil society organizations and government can overcome opposition from the tobacco industry.”

The new legislation is an important step forward in implementing the evidence-based measures that have been proven to reduce tobacco use. It substantially strengthens existing tobacco-control regulations in Colombia by:

* requiring all indoor workplaces and public places be 100 percent smoke-free, including restaurants, bars, public transportation and medical and educational institutes, and workplaces that are also residences;

  • prohibiting the use of terms “light,” “mild,” etc. on tobacco products;
  • prohibiting publicity, promotion and sponsorship by tobacco companies over the next two years;
  • requiring text and pictorial health warnings covering 30 percent of the front and back of tobacco products within one year;
  • prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors; and
  • mandating education programs to prevent tobacco consumption and support smoking cessation.

At 46 million people, Colombia is one of the largest countries in Latin America to enact a comprehensive law. In spite of heavy-handed opposition from tobacco companies, Colombia was able to pass this legislation just fifteen months after ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world's first international health treaty.

The legislation helps Colombia fulfill its obligations under the FCTC. Colombian Vice Minister of Health Carlos Ignacio Cuervo first announced a smoke-free decree in May of 2008 in keeping with the treaty’s requirement to protect all citizens from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke.

In Colombia, 19.5 percent of males and 7.4 percent of females smoke. Approximately 25,000 people in Colombia die each year due to tobacco-related illness.