Buenos Aires - Argentine lawmakers approved a nationwide law on Wednesday that would ban tobacco advertising and smoking in public places, and require warning messages on product packaging.
The effort, under debate for years in Congress, and strongly opposed by the tobacco industry, was approved overwhelmingly with 181 yes votes, one abstention and a single no vote.
Smokers make up nearly 33 percent of the adult population in Argentina, amounting to some eight million people, according to official data. Tobacco-related diseases are thought to contribute to 40,000 deaths a year.
In addition, somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of pregnant women in Argentina remain smokers through their pregnancies, one of the highest rates in the Americas and the world, according to government statistics.
Health Minister Juan Manzur said the law's passing made the day one “to celebrate life.”
Similar moves in Uruguay and Brazil, he added, have “shown excellent results.”
In 2006, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to ban smoking in public places, and the fifth in the world. Several countries in the region have since followed.
The city of Buenos Aires prohibited smoking in public places, bars and restaurants starting in October 2006.
Last month, Argentina also banned the import, sale and promotion of electronic cigarettes, with lawmakers insisting there was no proof they helped smokers kick the habit.
Uruguay, Colombia and Panama have already banned the smokeless e-cigarettes. The devices have not been banned in the United States or the European Union. - Sapa-AFP