Uruguay has become the first country in South America and fifth in the world to ban smoking in enclosed public places.
The ban which came into effect at midnight Wednesday March 1 local time contemplates fines of over a thousand US dollars or three day closure for bars, pubs, restaurants or offices where people are caught smoking.
The ban was decreed by President Dr. Tabaré Vazquez, who is a cancer specialist. Mr Vazquez said the law would prevent unnecessary deaths from passive smoking. An estimated 5,000 people die every year in Uruguay from smoking-related diseases, according to official figures.
"Passive smoking is also linked to chronic disease and premature deaths. Since there's not a secure level of exposure, the best thing to do is to ban cigarettes in enclosed places", argued President Vazquez.
To promote the legislation, the government has launched a campaign called "A Million Thanks", a reference to the number of Uruguayan smokers who will have to change their habits.
An opinion poll commissioned by the Public Health ministry shows that a majority of smokers support the measure.
The coming into effect of the ban was head news in Argentine, Chilean and Peruvian newspapers plus mentions in the Spanish press.
A similar ban became effective in Buenos Aires City for government buildings and offices following on an ordinance approved by the City's Council. Infringement fines range from 166 to 666 US dollars.
However the ordinance will become extensive to public enclosed places as of next October as well as a ban on tobacco advertising. An estimated 8 million of Argentina's 39 million people smoke causing 40.000 deaths per annum of smoking related diseases including 6.000 "passive" smokers.