Vital Strategies’ effective and innovative campaigns address the topics that shape global health.


Smoke-Free Mexico

A transformative mass media campaign solidified tobacco law to protect future generations from secondhand smoke.

Focus Area




Two men discuss urgent tobacco law reform in 'Como te lo explico?' ad, highlighting the need for change.
Multi-outlet campaign exposes people to tobacco control ads, stressing the urgent need for robust tobacco control laws.

Smoking was partially prohibited indoors in Mexico, but the law and its enforcement were lax. The main issue that advocates focused on, is that children were being exposed to secondhand smoke.

A multi-pronged media campaign spearheaded by two poignant videos with a potent message about children caught the public’s attention. The campaign garnered enough support to get tobacco reform legislation mandating an entirely smoke-free Mexico — inside and out — passed unanimously. The “Mexico sin Humo” (“Smoke-Free Mexico”) campaign got the public talking about and understanding the dangers of secondhand smoke. In so doing it became the impetus for tangible legislative and policy change. The campaign wielded influencer power into a 70,000-strong online advocate army to achieve a landmark victory that solidified the imperative for a smoke-free Mexico and enshrined it in both legislative and social landscapes.
Mexico’s journey to robust tobacco control is a testament to unwavering commitment and strategic action.”
Benjamin Gonzalez Rubio
Communication Manager for Vital Strategies’ Policy Advocacy and Communication Division
Newspaper ad applauds senators and deputies for passing 100% smoke-free zones and comprehensive TAPS bans under the General Tobacco Control Law amendment.
19% Smoking Prevalence
Among those aged 20 and over there’s a 19% smoking prevalence in Mexico, where the total population is over 127.5 Million.
Newspaper ad applauds senators and deputies for passing 100% smoke-free zones and comprehensive TAPS bans under the General Tobacco Control Law amendment.

Strategic coordinated efforts on many fronts brought success.

Focusing on children proved to be the key for getting people’s attention in a region where kids and family are everything. Two videos showcased the effect on children, one making invisible smoke visible, and the other showing the detrimental effects of exposure to smoke on a child.

Tobacco Consumption in Mexico

24 Million
Number of smokers aged 20 and over.
Average starting age for tobacco consumption in Mexico; 27% of men, 8.7% of women, 6.7% of boys and 3% of girls use tobacco.
People die annually in Mexico from smoking-related diseases.
Newspaper ad exposes tobacco control campaign, stressing the urgent need for robust tobacco control laws given the high burden and social cost.

Newspaper ad features tobacco control campaign, stressing the urgent need for robust tobacco control laws given the high burden and social cost.

In Mexico, public health advocates, supported by Vital Strategies, spearheaded a campaign, “Mexico sin Humo (“Smoke-Free Mexico”), to achieve just that—a Mexico without tobacco smoke. Launched in 2018, the winning campaign focused on two objectives: to highlight the dangers and devastation of secondhand smoke, especially for children, and to call on decision-makers to prioritize public health over industry profits.

The result was the bill’s December 2021 passage in Congress, signed into law by the president in February 2022. Some of the most robust anti-tobacco legislation in Latin America, it created a smoke-free country and was Mexico’s first tobacco regulation overhaul in 13 years.

This victory was the result of a longtime partnership between Vital Strategies and two local civil society organizations, Refleacciona and Salud Justa. The 2021 law capped efforts with a complete ban on smoking in public spaces and a full ban on tobacco advertising, expanding existing bans on television and radio to all media, including online.


A Landmark Campaign

This landmark campaign focused on children’s risks from secondhand smoke as a way into the larger issue, by highlighting exposure in educational institutions. The media drive went beyond awareness; it brought the issue into the national conversation and catalyzed a formidable online community of more than 70,000 staunch supporters who urged politicians to prioritize health. “Mexico sin Humo’s” strategic communication campaign fomented online advocacy, saturated news outlets, and broadcast videos that tugged at heartstrings by featuring children.

The comprehensive law unequivocally designated all public areas, and any location that serves food, as 100% smoke-free zones and prohibited all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Regulations that followed in December 2022 further strengthened the smoke-free legislation by adding all outdoor places where people gather, including beaches, parks and stadiums, firming up a unified, nationwide commitment to preserving public health. Mexico’s first tobacco control law had been passed in 2008, but it was weak, and enforcement was lax.

Although smoking was technically prohibited in primary schools, kids were still exposed to secondhand smoke there, and people were allowed to smoke in universities. Smoking was banned in bars and places that served food, but that tended to drop off after midnight or 1 a.m., when inspectors signed off for the night. Smoke permeated restaurants, public transportation and schools.

“Mexico’s journey to robust tobacco control is a testament to unwavering commitment and strategic action,” said Benjamin Gonzalez Rubio, communication manager for Vital Strategies’ Policy Advocacy and Communication division. “With the 2021 win, Mexico stands united in its commitment to public health and providing smoke-free air in all indoor public spaces and outdoor gathering areas. This is a significant victory for public health.”

There are 14.9 million smokers in Mexico, out of a population of 128.9 million, and secondhand smoke wafts out to millions more. Adult men are most likely to smoke, with 27% of men, 8.7% of women, 6.7% of boys and 3% of girls using tobacco, according to the National Survey of Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Consumption (ENCODAT). More than 60,000 people die annually in Mexico from smoking-related diseases.

When it came to advertising, the tobacco industry had spent years enticing youth to inhale. Mexico Salud Justa, a local health advocacy organization, calculated that 15,000 lives could be saved over 10 years if tobacco advertising were banned, and $1 billion would be saved in health costs. And as many as 20,000 lives could be saved each year if a national smoke-free law were enacted, the group said.

Rather than appealing directly to smokers, “Mexico sin Humo” focused on the people tobacco users love, the innocents most vulnerable to tobacco damage yet most helpless to prevent it: Children. The campaign shined a light on the invisible ways young ones are affected by smoke.


Political Pressure, and a Focus On Children

“In Latin America it’s all about the kids and families,” Gonzalez Rubio said. “So that’s what people respond to.”

Salud Justa and Refleacciona worked with Vital Strategies to make the “Mexico sin Humo” campaign stronger, illuminating the degree of secondhand-smoke exposure rampant in schools and making many people see the health implications for children of passive smoke.

More than 70,000 people became part of the “Mexico Sin Humo” movement by signing a petition supporting a smoke-free Mexico. That “advocate army” then shared messages about tobacco harm online with their congressional deputies and senators. They peppered their politicians with information on evidence-based practices promoted by the World Health Organization to protect nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke and tobacco marketing.

The bill’s passage was made possible by a series of strategically timed, coordinated activities that created the proverbial perfect storm for the ban to move forward and become law. Leading up to “Mexico sin Humo”, in 2017 local health organizations launched a multi-year campaign promoted among congressional decision-makers. At the same time, partner campaigns pressed for a vote on a law to protect children from secondhand smoke. Collectively the organizations distributed handbooks to members of the legislature’s health committee called “Es por todos, Sí a la Reforma de Ley para el Control del Tabaco, meaning “It’s for all, yes to the tobacco control law amendment.” They also supplied lawmakers with key data outlining tobacco’s damage via a series of infographics.

In addition, Vital Strategies campaigns contributed to more than 30 national news stories about the damages and devastation of smoking and secondhand smoke and to call on decision-makers to implement the most effective tobacco control practices, including a tax increase. The strong public relations effort also led to more than 20 interviews in top news programs and newspapers, including Business Insider, Yahoo! Finance, El Universal, La Jornada, and with the nationally known journalist Eduardo Ruíz-Healy. Local partners held press conferences, which also amplified the cause in national and local newspapers.

“Invisible Killer, Schools” ran in Mexico in 2018 and shows the dangers of secondhand smoke in a school environment.

Powerful ‘Como te lo explico?’ (“How do I explain it?”) ad captures a female child actor using an oxygen mask, spotlighting the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Launching a Media Blitz

The partners worked with media outlets, placing a series of ads in national newspapers, including Reforma, El Heraldo and Proceso, the key newspapers read by decision-makers. Campaigns brought the unseen dangers of secondhand smoke into the limelight, especially within environments designed for learning, growth, work and leisure. Two compelling videos brought the issue into sharp focus.

Invisible Killer, Schools,” showed an elementary school teacher smoking and exhaling out the classroom window. Then the kids start pouring in, as she waves away her smoke, and a caption says, “Most smoke is invisible,” as the camera pans back to make that smoke visible—and the viewer sees a classroom filled with gray smoke, in which children frolic.

How Do I Explain It?” showed a man making personal appeals and papering utility poles with flyers calling for a reformed tobacco law. After finishing his task, he visits his young daughter at the respiratory clinic. She stares mournfully at the camera, her wide eyes peeking over the top of an oxygen mask.

“¿Cómo te lo explico?” (“How Do I Explain It?”) calls for the urgent amendment of tobacco control laws to protect the most vulnerable people.

“These ads weren’t just ads; they were powerful narratives that resonated deeply with the public. They exemplified the unseen yet profound impact of smoking and secondhand smoke, especially in environments where our children learn and play,” Gonzalez Rubio said. “The remarkable engagement with these messages is evident from the impressive social media reach, which saw a peak of 35 million in 2020, significantly up from around 10 million in the preceding years.”

In addition, the campaigns achieved an extraordinary ad value equivalent of US$1.71 million, a testament to their wide-reaching influence, as well as in-kind contributions for placement in public transportation, valued at US$1.77 million. Media outlets including El Heraldo TV aired the videos for free, and TeleUrban also did so at minimal cost. “These campaigns are more than just awareness tools,” Gonzalez Rubio added. “They are catalysts for change, motivating individuals and policymakers to take decisive action against the tobacco epidemic.”

Vital also created a dedicated website, “Mexico sin Humo”, that offered comprehensive insights into the campaign and its ongoing endeavors.

“Mexico sin Humo’s” campaign strategy was fueled by meticulous research that revealed the best way to reach audiences and sway public opinion. Organizers surveyed pivotal key opinion leaders, from media to government officials, to learn about prevailing perceptions of tobacco. This generated significant insights into cultural behavior patterns influencing tobacco use and revealed the social-cultural factors influencing tobacco use. Flush with knowledge from this data, the partners were able to craft comprehensive, high-impact tobacco control campaigns that would engage and influence decision-makers.


The Way Forward: Putting the Law into Action

The push continues—now focused on compliance. While the campaign made people more conscious of the issues and got the law passed, it now needs to be paired with enforcement efforts, so the law is followed. Recently, Gonzalez Rubio went to a sports event with his child and came across someone vaping inside the venue. When he asked them to stop, they put it away.

Ideally, they would simply not have started vaping in the first place. But when asked to stop, he said, “they were respectful and they accepted it.”


Our Impact

In 2021, after years of disseminating hard-hitting information on the detrimental effects of tobacco to the public and political spheres, a comprehensive law was passed banning smoking in all public spaces, inside or out, and forbidding tobacco advertising.

100% smoke-free

Completely smoke-free spaces were established in Mexico via the landmark legislation passed in 2021 after years of efforts by Vital Strategies and local civil society partners.

12 pivotal figures

The “Mexico Sin Humo” campaign was developed from meticulous evidence-based research that included detailed interviews with 12 pivotal figures who identified the prevailing perceptions of tobacco in Mexico.


The number of people who signed a petition and became part of a smoke-free advocacy army by pressuring elected officials and policymakers to enact tobacco reform.


Earned media reach, the number of times third parties cited the campaign in highlighting the damage and devastation caused by secondhand smoke.

50 million

People were reached by the “Mexico sin Humo” campaign, including officials and decision-makers in major cities.

35 Million

Social media users had been exposed to the ads by 2020.

Explore Our Work

Smoke-Free Mexico