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Last updated: 26 August, 2010 - Published 15:31 GMT
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Cuba drops cigarette rations
Cuban smoking
Some 2.5 million Cubans will be affected by the decision
Cuba is eliminating cigarette subsidies to the elderly to save money.

All Cubans 55 or older are allocated four packs of cigarettes a month for about 25% the normal price, but the government has announced that this privilege will end in September.

The measure is President Raul Castro's latest attempt to cut the country'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".

Monthly pension

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.

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.

President Raul Castro
The move is Mr Castro's latest budget-cutting measure

Teacher Yudiesky Rodriguez said people would continue to smoke despite the cigarette removal.

"One way of another, even if they remove it (cigarette), people will keep on smoking because it will still be sold in shops and in the streets anyway," she said.

Cuba is an important tobacco and cigar producer and boasts one of the world's highest per-capita rates of smokers.

Basic food

Unlike many countries where cigarettes are heavily taxed, Cuba sells unfiltered black tobacco cigarettes at very low prices.

The government's announcement made no mention of the health benefits of quitting smoking.

Cuba's ration program began in 1962 as a temporary way to guarantee basic food for all Cubans in the face of Washington's then-new embargo.

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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