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Cuba Cracks Down On Smoking

Despite its reputation as a producer of fine cigars, Cuba is preparing to ask smokers to step outside before lighting up.

Beginning on Feb. 7, smoking will be prohibited in theaters, stores, buses, taxis and other enclosed public areas under a new resolution published in Cuba's National Gazette by the Commerce Ministry.

Smoking will also be banned in indoor restaurants except in designated smoking areas. Cigarette machines will be removed. There was no word if smoking would be allowed in bars.

The resolution said the move was "taking into account the damage to human health caused by the consumption of cigarettes and cigars, with the objective of contributing to a change in the attitudes of our population."

Tolerance for the habit has been slowly waning and even President Fidel Castro gave up smoking cigars years ago, joking on one occasion about giving away boxes of cigars: "The best thing to do is give them to your enemy."

Cigar exports continue to play a key role in the Cuban economy, generating $200 million annually.

Tobacco is second to sugar cane as Cuba's most important crop, but the country - like many others - is increasingly less dependent on farming, with agriculture accounting for about 5% of the economy (three times as much as in the U.S.), industry for about 27% (about the same as in the U.S.) and service businesses about 68% (only slightly less than the 72% seen in the U.S.).

Cuba's new smoking law will also ban the sale of cigarettes to children under age 16 and at stores less than 100 yards from schools.

According to government statistics, four of every 10 Cubans smoke, and 30 percent of the 15,000 deaths from preventable cancers each year can be linked to smoking.

In the U.S. - which is also a tobacco producer, with anti-smoking measures credited for reduced cigarette sales - nearly 23 percent of adults are smokers. That's according to the American Lung Association, which says tobacco-related illnesses claim an estimated 440,000 lives each year.

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