Buying a cigarrillo (cigarette in Spanish) is very easy in San José and all types of brands, including Mexican, Chinese and others, for the streets have all types and from all destinations. And that is worrisome for the country’s legislators.

The new anti-smoking law proposes a series of taxes that will increase the cost of cigarettes and (in theory) reduce consumption.

But, that may only be true for the legal kind, for the lack of laws and controls allows a lucrative market for clandestine cigs.

One has to only take a walk in downtown San José to see the variety of cigarettes available – legal and illegal – and the availability to purchase only one for immediate smoking.

The new “anti-tobacco” law that is currently in discussion in the legislature would not only impose new taxes, prohibit smoking in public places and control advertising, but also combat the contraband trade, which experts say is way out of control.

The intent of the legislation is not against the prohibition of importing and selling foreign brands, but rather to ensure that the imports enter the country legally, that is pay the import tax.

Legislator María de los Ángeles Alfaro, who is spearheading the bill, says “the logic is that raising prices will diminish consumption, but the market is imperfect”.

Today, the price of a legal pack of cigarettes is about ¢1.300 colones. But the contraband can be bought for as little as ¢500 on the streets of San José, a price that, according to Alfaro, allows the young to afford to buy.

The anti-smoking bill has been around for some time and like all legislation to be approved in Costa Rica, it is a slow process.

If and when it is approved, the legislation would be one of the best in Latin America, according to the l Coordinador de la Red Nacional Anti-tabaco (RENATA) and an official of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Roberto Castro.

Castro explains that the bill is according to the provisions of the Framework Convention of the World Health Organization (WHO), and takes in the experiences of other countries.