Mexico Reports Mixed Progress in Campaign to Reduce Tobacco Usage

Article excerpt

Mexico's tough anti-smoking campaign and a corresponding increase in federal tobacco taxes have had mixed results in the effort to reduce tobacco-related illnesses in Mexico. The campaign has significantly reduced the level of second-hand smoke in public areas, since smoking is now banned in office buildings, restaurants, taxis, and other sites.

But authorities lament that the number of Mexicans who smoke remains relatively high, particularly among youth.

Indoor ban helps reduce second-hand smoke

On May 31, the UN's World No Tobacco Day, the Secretaria de Salud (SSA) provided an update on Mexico's progress in reducing the population's dependence on tobacco. Health Secretary Salomon Chertorivski Woldenberg said Mexico has made great strides in ridding second-hand smoke from public places during the past several years because of legislation approved by Congress in 2008. The law prohibited smoking in all enclosed areas, although restaurants and bars were allowed to designate special areas for smokers (SourceMex, Feb. 27, 2008). In addition to protecting the public from second-hand smoke, the law was intended to reduce tobacco-related illnesses in Mexico. "Today, there are many spaces that are free from smoke," said Chertorivski.

The SSA did not release data comparing the number of smokers before and after the 2008 legislation and the tax increase were approved. Some observers noted that one measure is the decline in the number of cigarettes manufactured in Mexico. In mid-May, the government's statistics office (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia e Informatica, INEGI) said cigarette production declined by more than 27% in just one year. In 2010, tobacco companies produced 2.4 billion cigarette packets, but that number fell to 1.6 billion in 2011.

Still 11 million smokers

The Comision Nacional Contra las Adicciones (CONADIC) estimates that there are still close to 11 million smokers in Mexico, and the addiction contributes to about 60,000 deaths each year. The statistics show a gender disparity, with men far outnumbering women among smokers in Mexico. About 8 million men smoke, compared with 2.8 million women, said CONADIC.

Chertorivski and other officials acknowledged that smoking remains prevalent among many young people in Mexico. In a recent interview, former Mexico City education secretary Mario Delgado raised concerns that the Mexican capital ranks second in the country, after the city of Toluca, in the number of smokers between the ages of 13 and 15. The data was obtained from a national survey (Encuesta Global de Tabaquismo en Jovenes).

"We are working on [reducing youth smoking], and the results will be reflected in a few years," said Chertorivski. "[World Health Organization director Margaret Chan], who was in Mexico at the start of April, emphasized that the best way to keep youth from consuming tobacco, besides education, is to increase the cost of a pack of cigarettes."

In 2010, the Congress also moved to increase the cost of tobacco products and raise revenues for the federal Treasury by adding a tax on tobacco products to the federal budget for 2011 (SourceMex, Nov. 17, 2010).

In addition to banning smoking in enclosed public places and raising the tax on cigarettes, the government has taken other actions to discourage tobacco consumption, including increased controls on imports and exports of tobacco products, stringent regulations on cigarette advertisements and sponsorships, and guidelines for packaging tobacco products.

"I am convinced that with these measures we have planted the seeds for a better future," said Chertorivski.

The Mexico City daily newspaper Excelsior said smoker Patricia del Castillo provides an example of how some consumers have changed their habits because of the prohibitions against smoking in public places and the higher costs of cigarettes.

"Sometimes I only buy one cigarette at a time," del Castillo told the newspaper. …