Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba to withdraw cheap cigarettes for elderly

A man smokes a cigarette in Havana - 25 August 2010
Image caption This man will have to pay full price for his cigarettes come September

Cuba's elderly will no longer be entitled to state-subsidised cigarettes, the government has said.

All Cubans 55 or older are allocated four packs of cigarettes a month for about 25% the normal price, but this privilege is being ended in September.

The measure is President Raul Castro's latest attempt to cut the communist state's spending.

The island has been hit hard by the global economic downturn and the long-term US trade embargo.

A statement in the government-run Granma newspaper said the move was "part of the steps gradually being applied to eliminate subsidies". The health benefits were not mentioned.

Cigarettes "are not a primary necessity," it said.

Some elderly non-smokers were taking their cut-price cigarettes and re-selling them to boost their meagre pensions, says the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana.

"I'm insulted because it's another thing they are taking away from us," said Angela Jimenez, a 64-year-old who receives a monthly pension of about $10 (£6.50).

She said she will now have to quit smoking because she won't be able to afford the normal price of about $0.33 a pack.

Cigarettes are the latest item to be removed from ration books. Subsidised peas and potatoes were eliminated in November.

Earlier in August Mr Castro said the role of the state would be reduced in some areas, to cut the "overloaded" state budget.

He said more workers would be allowed to be self-employed or to set up small businesses.

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