Mexico bans smoking in public places; businesses say they will sue

Juarez restaurateurs expect to lose 20 percent of their customers; City official says ban protects citizens from secondhand smoke

Juarez, Mexico (border report) – Mexico on Sunday banned smoking in virtually all public places. Juarez officials say it will protect the public from secondhand smoke and encourage more El Paso families to visit their city. But restaurateurs fear losing business and are preparing to sue the federal government.

“We have known since last year that this would happen, but we expected smoking areas to be allowed. The rules laid out this week make some of our members’ investments moot,” said Christina Cunningham, president of the Juarez Restaurant Chamber. “We are not against the law, we are not against good health, but the rules are not as expected and if our members want to sue, we are ready to join them.”

The new rules ban smoking and e-cigarettes in restaurants, bars, event halls, public and private buildings, hotels and churches. Smoking is also now banned in certain outdoor areas where large numbers of people gather, including bus stops, stadiums, parks and beaches. They also require stores to keep tobacco products behind the counter and ban tobacco advertising.

Businesses face fines of up to $2,000; individuals face fines ranging from $50 to $300.

Juarez City Council member Enrique Torres Valades (border report photo)

“It’s good for those of us who don’t use tobacco, it protects our health,” said Juarez City Council member Enrique Torres Valades. “I see that there could be repercussions for businesses because their customers won’t be able to smoke even outdoors.”

Cunningham said restaurants expect losses of up to 20 percent, given that one in five of their customers are smokers. The rules allow businesses to designate a smoking area within 30 feet of any entrance, but prohibit serving food there.

Cunningham said businesses in downtown Juarez are small and built close together. Even bus stops are less than 30 feet from their main entrances, so they won’t get benefits.

It is also expected that the law will stop the activities of some street vendors. “They told us they would fine us if we kept cigarettes in plain sight. How are we going to sell cigarettes if people can’t see them,” asks Javier, a migrant who sells cigarettes in downtown Juarez.

Torres acknowledged that Mexico’s new tobacco law will upset some people.

A man lights a cigarette in downtown Juarez on Thursday. (photo of the border report)

“We still see a lot of smokers, young and old. The older generation has long developed a habit, and young people get acquainted with nicotine through vaping,” he said. “I expect they will continue to find a way to buy them and consume them at home or in private gatherings.”

As of May 2019, 14.9 million people in Mexico reported smoking or using alternative tobacco products, according to the Mexican government. reported in the National Survey of Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Use (ENCODAT).

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