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Costa Rica’s Social Security System is going to text you to stop smoking

January 22, 2014

Costa Rica’s Social Security System, or the Caja, wants to reduce the number of people who smoke, as well as the high costs public hospitals incur in treating patients with tobacco-related illness.

In 2013, the Caja spent almost ₡90 billion ($179 million) on treating patients with smoking-related cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in Costa Rica, according to a Caja report released Wednesday.

Caja Medical Director María Villalta Bonilla said the anti-smoking campaign includes distributing information and promoting recreational activities.

“Most of (the campaign) targets young people, who are the most vulnerable population,” she said.

The five-year initiative includes ads in national media and on mobile platforms, and sports and arts activities in schools. Suggested activities include drama, music and dance clubs, among others, Villalta said.

The Caja this month launched the campaign, which will be paid for by taxes and fines from the country’s anti-smoking law, by sending short text messages to mobile phones and posting them on social media.

In 2012, President Laura Chinchilla signed a law banning smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants, public buildings, bus stops and taxi stands.

A survey by the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute that year estimated the number of smokers in Costa Rica at 480,000 people, mostly men over 20. On average, 10 people die every day from tobacco-related diseases, the Caja claims.

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