May 30, 2012

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

New study of tobacco control policy making in Costa Rica

We just published “Tobacco Control Legislation in Costa Rica (1971-2012): After 40 Years of Tobacco Industry Dominance, Tobacco Control Advocacy Succeeds.”  The full report is available at free at


Between 1971 and 1985, Philip Morris International (PMI), through its subsidiary Tabacalera Costarricense (TC), and British American Tobacco (BAT), through its subsidiary Republic Tobacco Company (RTC), successfully blocked several laws to restrict tobacco advertising and supported weak industry‐inspired executive decrees, resulting in minimal advances for tobacco advertising restrictions.

During the mid‐to‐late 1980s and early 1990s, the Ministry of Health capitalized on the public’s increased awareness of secondhand smoke (SHS) and issued nine advanced (for their time) smoking restriction decrees between 1986 and 1989, as well as assisted other Costa Rican health institutions to introduce Costa Rica’s first bill to prohibit smoking in workplaces and public places and eliminate tobacco advertising in 1992.

By 1988, the industry internally expressed its concern over Costa Rica’s progress and successfully blocked the 1992 bill by secretly hiring scientific consultants to counter the SHS threat, and implementing the pilot program of the Courtesy of Choice program for Latin America to promote smoking and nonsmoking areas as the “reasonable alternative” to 100% smokefree laws.

On May 5, 1995, the Legislative Assembly approved Law 7501 “Regulation of Smoking” without the smokefree workplace and public place provisions and with the industry’s language on tobacco advertising, a major success for the industry.

During the mid‐to‐late 1990s and early 2000s, the industry extended the Courtesy of Choice program, promoted youth smoking prevention programs, and made a voluntary agreement with the Health Ministry to prevent strong tobacco control legislation. The industry then used Costa Rica as a pilot site to implement similar programs throughout Latin America.

During the 1990s early 2000s, the industry successfully lobbied Central American governments and the Central American Common Market (CACM) to eliminate tariffs (taxes on imported goods) within Central America. BAT capitalized on the reduction of trade barriers and implemented Project Rationalization in Central America, which consolidated Central American manufacturing and production in Honduras, allowing BAT to cut costs and produce Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Social Reports for the region.

In July 2003, Costa Rica signed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) despite the tobacco industry’s attempt to use Costa Rica to weaken the treaty during FCTC negotiations (2000‐2003).

In August 2008, Costa Rica became the 165th country to ratify the FCTC despite the tobacco industry’s efforts to block ratification.

In 2009, tobacco control advocates helped introduce Bill 17.371 to implement the FCTC.

However the tobacco industry once again worked again with the Ministry of Health to weaken and delay the bill. In 2010, legislators shifted from supporting tobacco control to supporting the tobacco industry by stopping strong tobacco control legislation.

From 2010 through 2012, RENATA conducted a multi‐pronged advocacy strategy including lobbying, coalition building, media advocacy and interventions at critical moments, and successfully informed legislators about the importance of the FCTC, which helped legislators reject weak tobacco industry‐inspired initiatives and re‐introduce strong tobacco control initiatives to implement the FCTC. As a result, in February 2012 the legislature passed a strong tobacco control law (Law 9028), which established 100% smokefree environments, increased advertising restrictions and tobacco taxes, and introduced graphic health warning labels, despite continued opposition by the tobacco industry.

As of May 2012, the law’s implementing regulations had not been issued. Tobacco control advocates in Costa Rica must continue to push for strong regulations as other countries have demonstrated that the tobacco industry’s relentless attacks never end.

Costa Rica’s experience provides a model that tobacco control advocates in other Latin American countries can use to anticipate future moves by the industry.

Tobacco control advocates in Costa Rica and Latin America must continue to press government officials not to cooperate with the tobacco industry. The Costa Rican experience demonstrates the importance of vigorous implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 which insulates public health policymaking from industry interference.

International tobacco control advocates should be cautious of tobacco industry interference at the regional and international level, especially international trade agreements which include provisions such as intellectual property rights that attempt to undermine domestic public health policies.

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