14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 March 2018 — The scene is repeated every day: groups of adults drink beers, smoke and shout while children play in a small indoor playground a few yards away. In the Carlos III Plaza, Havana’s most important commercial center, cigarette smoke and minors coexist despite the fact that legislation prohibits smoking in closed public places that do not have “special areas” for it.
“Public Health has authorized smoking in this area because it has high ceilings and it is a public place,” said an employee at the Public Information Office, located on the top floor of the building and which, paradoxically, is the only point in the complex where smoking is not allowed. However, the national legislation for the control of smoking does not reference the ceiling height of a closed site and establishes an express prohibition of smoking if there are no authorized spaces.
In the well-known Havana shopping center, the children’s area, where dozens of children spend the day having fun among its amusements, is barely separated from cafeteria tables, where adults smoke and drink alcoholic beverages.
“It is like this every day and we can not do anything, people are not controlled even after they addressed this situation on the television news,” laments an employee who sells cookies and juices to several mothers who have arrived with children. “If you scold someone, they get aggressive and nobody wants to get into trouble.”
Recently, official TV aired a report on the coexistence of alcohol, tobacco and young children in the indoor area of this shopping center, despite it being unusual for the national media to criticize the State’s management of its premises.
The security guard who looks after the cafeterias and the play area of the building told 14ymedio that in that space “smoking was not prohibited,” but he could not explain why, in a closed space, this habit harmful to human health was allowed.
Each year about 13,000 people on the island die directly from smoke exposure and another 1,500 die from indirect exposure, according to 2016 data from the National Institute of Epidemiology and the Unit for the Promotion of Health and Disease Prevention. “This is allowed,” the guard repeated to this newspaper, shrugging his shoulders.
Children who play in this space that isn’t smoke-free run the risk of suffering more respiratory diseases, as demonstrated by an investigation carried out by doctors from several pediatric hospitals in the Cuban capital, who explained that “exposure to tobacco smoke was a factor in 75% of children with recurring asthma attacks.”
“In this whole neighborhood there is no other place where children can find some entertainment, so whether we like it or not, we end up here,” says Raiza Luis, a mother who lives nearby and often brings her twins to play on the premises. “With so much alcohol, it’s an unusual day where where are no fights and that people get mixed up in some nonsense,” she adds.
Smoking, which causes 14% of the deaths in the country each year, is not the only harmful activity to which minors are exposed. The sale of alcoholic beverages in the same space where they play also causes concern.
“In this area there has also been an increase in episodes of drunkenness among adolescents, along with vandalism, pranks and fights under the influence of alcohol,” Maritza Gutiérrez, the pseudonym of a doctor in a polyclinic in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III, explains to 14ymedio.
Gutiérrez recommends “avoiding having children in the proximity of places where drinks are sold to consume right there,” because “the children start to see that this is something normal, something to imitate.” For the doctor “we must end once and for all the social permissiveness we have with the consumption of rum and beer in public places.”
In 2005, a resolution published in the Official Gazette prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages and beers to minors under 16 years of age. Alarms were set off when it was verified that young people were beginning to drink at younger and younger ages.
In Cuba, the average age of the onset of alcohol consumption is 15 years. The psychologist Justo Fabelo Rochy, coordinator of the You Decid Project, which seeks to raise awareness of the problem among adolescents, warns about the situation of many adults who develop an addiction to alcohol starting to drink at these early ages.
In 2014, the World Health Organization issued a clear warning when it published a report that revealed that alcohol abuse caused more than 3.3 million people in the world to die that year, which represented 6% of the worldwide deaths.
For Dr. Gutiérrez, as for many parents who attend some with their children to the small playground in the center of the mall, the worst is “the example that is being given to children and the danger to which they are exposed in an unstable environment, where anything can happen due to drunkenness.”
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