Uruguay is a small country--its total population of 3.4 million residents is fewer than most South American capital cities--but it's placed itself on the frontlines of the tobacco war. According to a radio report on NPR's "Morning Edition," Uruguay's anti-smoking efforts have overcome heavy industry lobbying to enact some of the world's most effective tobacco controls.
The other main Southern Cone countries, Chile and Argentina, have mixed records. Chilean laws control smoking in the workplace and other public areas, but allow bars and restaurants to declare themselves tobacco-friendly (in the case of restaurants, this cuts off their access to the important family market, as individuals under age 18 may not enter such venues). The city of Buenos Aires has enacted a surprisingly effective law, but surrounding Buenos Aires province ( with more than 30 percent of the country's population) is still a free-fire zone.
Much of Uruguay's progress derives from the leadership of President Tabaré Vásquez who, among other achievements, received the 2006 Director General's award from the World Health Organization for his efforts in curbing tobacco use in Uruguay and elsewhere. President Vásquez is, appropriately enough, also an oncologist.