Panama's ban on tobacco advertising protects people’s health

July 2013

Panama has successfully banned all advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products and plans to introduce plain packaging of all tobacco products and ban tobacco smoking from open spaces.

"Few years ago, I smoked two packs of cigarettes per day,” recalls 67-year old Alonso Hurley, an engineer and university professor from Panama City, the capital of Panama. “Tobacco was part of my life and there was no way to avoid tobacco because I was confronted with cigarette commercials everywhere: on TV, at roadsides, and in magazines."

"We had to take action to stop this epidemic and protect the health of our people."

Dr Javier Diaz, Minister of Health of Panama

Panama: complete ban on tobacco advertising

Meanwhile things have changed. Alonso stopped smoking and the tobacco commercials have vanished from Panama’s landscape. In 2008, Panama became the first country in the Americas to enact a complete ban on all advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products or TAPS. According to estimates TAPS bans can decrease tobacco consumption by 7 to 16%. The Panamanian law does not only prohibit national media and billboard advertisement but also commercials in international media originating outside the country, the distribution of products with tobacco brand logos, sponsorship of sports teams, promotional price discounting or product placement in television and motion pictures. The ground-breaking legislation also restricts advertising and marketing at the point of tobacco sale, an element often not included in bans adopted by other countries.

“In 2000, 16% of the population of Panama used tobacco and we had 2000 tobacco-related deaths each year," says Dr Javier Diaz, Minister of Health of Panama. "We had to take action to stop this epidemic and protect the health of our people."

Ministerio de Salud and Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas (MINSA – ICGES), Panama
Collecting data electronically for the Global Adult Tobacco Survey in Panama

Panama was one of the first countries that ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which entered into force in 2005. The TAPS ban was another important step in the country’s efforts to further strengthen tobacco control. In addition, the Government completely banned smoking in all public places, carried out a successful countrywide anti-tobacco mass media campaign and started to offer smoking cessation services. The funds raised by tobacco taxes are in part used to strengthen tobacco control. All these efforts together yielded impressive results.

Significant drop in tobacco consumption expected

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey carried out in Panama in 2008 with support of WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the number of cigarette smoking students aged 13-15 in Panama dropped from 13.2% to 4.3% since 2002.

Early in 2013, Panama conducted its first Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS). The results are not yet available, but Panama expects another significant drop in the tobacco consumption.

Carnival against NCDs
Dirección Nacional de Promoción de la salud

The levels of compliance with the TAPS ban in Panama are extremely high, ranking 95 out of a possible 100 points in a recent survey. However, the tobacco industry does not remain idle and is fiercely opposing any strengthening of tobacco control measures.

“Two tobacco companies filed a lawsuit against Panama because of the restriction of the exhibition of tobacco products at the point of sale,” reports Dr Nelyda Gligo, the President of the Panamanian Coalition Against Tobacco (COPACET). “But the population of Panama is supporting strong tobacco control and we cannot yield to intimidation and threats of the tobacco industry.”

In a recent opinion poll, 75% of the population approved a boost of the price of cigarillos that could soon cost 12 US$ each. And the industry is bracing for the next big blow as Panama plans to introduce plain packaging of all tobacco products and ban tobacco smoking from open space such as restaurant terraces.

Since Alonso quit smoking he feels much healthier and is even helping other people to stop using tobacco. “From time to time I am invited to talk about my experiences and I am happy that my example is encouraging others to lead healthier lives.”

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