Several years ago EPES took stock of an alarming set of statistics: Chile has the highest rate of youth smokers and the fourth highest rate of women smokers in the world. The Ministry of Health estimates that 46 people die each day from tobacco-related causes. Consequently, we made the decision to channel stað, resources, and energy to persuade the Chilean government to ban smoking indoors in public places.

EPES stað Sonia Covarrubias and our long-time collaborator Lezak Shallat were the prime movers in creating the Chile Libre de Tabaco (Tobacco Free Chile) alliance that led advocacy eðorts with legislators and mobilized widespread public support. The health promoters did their part by going to Congress many times and through their neighborhood educational campaigns.

Years of strategic, methodical work gave fruit in January when President Sebastian Piñera signed the new national law that bans smoking indoors in restaurants, bars, oðces, and even stadiums. The law also bans the use of additives, including menthol, that can increase addiction, and requires tobacco companies to report to the Ministry of Health any donations they make to private or public institutions. One key aspect of the law gives greater enforcement capacity to municipalities, which will now receive the fines levied from infractions.

When the law came into eðect March 1, Sonia, Lezak and others from EPES and the Tobacco Free Chile team were invited to the La Moneda presidential oðces in recognition of their decisive contribution to this historic law. Afterwards, EPES led a celebratory march through downtown Santiago, dancing in the streets and handing out hundreds of Chau Humo (Goodbye Cigarette Smoke) stickers and fliers explaining the new regulations.

“Today is a day to celebrate because this law is a huge step to improve the health of all Chileans, both smokers and non-smokers,” said Sonia. Public support from online networks, community groups and medical associations were key in overcoming the powerful lobby of the tobacco industry, she noted.

From the experience of other countries, we know that thousands of lives will be saved by this measure. In March, Patricia Sosa and Jake Palley from the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids visited EPES to celebrate the victory and help us plan for the next stage: implementation. This will include EPES-lead trainings of community monitors in the Santiago and Concepción to disseminate the new regulations and monitor compliance.