By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
What are the odds that Mexico’s new country-wide smoking law will work?
The new law, quite comprehensive and already reported on in detail in Pulse News Mexico, has received plenty of pushback on Mexican network news.
National TV news has given considerable coverage to owners of restaurants and corner stores, who claim that their sales will be significantly impacted with the new restrictions.
Only time will tell how this will all pan out.
Changing personal habits by legislation is always tricky.
It strikes me that not many people have actually read the actual legislation. It is quite lengthy, comprehensive and, at least in my opinion, seems pretty well thought-out.
My sense is a good deal of the pushback stems from the few sound bytes which have surfaced: “I have a right to smoke. It’s not illegal.”
However, reading the entirety of the law, my impression was quite different.
The intent is clearly to curtail tobacco use in future generations with no visible displays of tobacco products in stores, protecting children from second-hand smoke while in public.
The law really is not aimed against restaurants or bars other than trying to protect the health of the waiters and others workers who, if restaurants or bars have smoking areas, are forced to serve inside them.
Proof of that is that non-restaurants — hotels, for example — can have a dedicated outdoor smoking area. This makes sense, since hotel guests do not have the option of smoking in their hotel rooms.
I am guessing the same will apply to common areas of condominiums: No need for a dedicated smoking area as residents can smoke inside their units if they wish to.
It may be difficult to enforce the new law in places like parks, beaches and public transport stops.
I have recently spoken with all kinds of police officers and other officials, and most were not even aware of the new law. A few said, “I saw something on the news.”
When I asked them how they would handle it specifically starting on Feb.15, when penalties for violations will go into effect, most were clueless and indicated they had received no direction or training.
So, taking it one step further, I asked, “So what if on Feb. 15, I ask you to enforce the law? If you refuse or ignore my request, that is actually a felony for an officer not to take action when a citizen points out a misdemeanor or felony taking place.”
That question brought lots of nervous smiles and perplexed looks.
Most law enforcement agencies have the instruction to proceed on non-felonies in the following progressive order: 1) share the law and invite the citizen to do the correct thing; 2) ammonization; 3) bring the law violator physically before a civic judge; 4) impose detention for up to 48 hours and monetary fines.
My guess is that on the individual level, not much will happen beyond numbers one or two above, even though fines of around 10,000 pesos can be imposed. Maybe some poor person will be fined as an example for the country to see and shame, but I doubt it.
On the level of restaurants or large business, I predict we will see enforcement as large sums of money and business licenses are at play.
My overall take in reading the entirety of the law was that it is more about protecting the rights of non-smokers from second-hand smoke than a wild curtailment of smokers by Big Brother.
My mother’s generation actually smoked and drank during pregnancy, so to older folks, this seems like a large shift in public behavior.
So how do I think that this new tobacco law will be applied in Mexico?
As I said before, only time will tell.