From: Reuters
Published February 27, 2008 08:52 AM

Mexico to ban smoking in eateries, public spaces

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican lawmakers voted on Tuesday to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces across the country, which counts some 65,000 cigarette-related deaths each year.

Joining a string of newly smoke-free countries from Britain to Uruguay, Mexico will slap fines on establishments that breach the ban, and could subject recalcitrant smokers caught illicitly puffing to up to 36 hours in jail.

The bill, which extends a partial smoking ban in place in the capital since January, was approved by the Senate after being passed by the lower house late last year. President Felipe Calderon is expected to sign it into law in the next few days.

The partial ban, permitting smoking in specified areas, was slapped on Mexico City's bars and eateries in January, although a major restaurant chain is fighting it on the grounds it infringes smokers' rights.

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Many Mexicans use cigarettes socially, filling bars and cantinas with clouds of smoke, and it is still viewed as acceptable for politicians and executives to light up during business meetings.

The nationwide law will ban smoking in indoor workplaces and enclosed public spaces such as offices, schools, hospitals and on public transport. Smoking in bars and restaurants will only be permitted in separate rooms or on open-air terraces.

"There must be well-defined, cut-off areas, so that nonsmokers are not continually breathing in tobacco smoke and so that smokers can find a space where they are not sharing the same air," said Sen. Ernesto Saro, president of the Senate health committee.

Establishments found breaching the law could be fined up to 500,000 pesos ($46,000), or double that for a repeat offense.

The law also calls for larger warnings on cigarette packets and images of damage to internal organs from inhaling tobacco.

It gives authorities the right to close shops that sell tobacco to children, and prohibits the sale of individual cigarettes, a common practice on street stalls in a country where many earn just a handful of dollars a day.

Mexico counts around 13 million smokers among its population of 105 million.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Writing by Catherine Bremer, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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