Tamil Diplomat

The Bill on National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol is discourage smoking not to ban: Rajitha

Health and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne presented National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (Amendment) Bill in Parliament and observed that the purpose of the Bill is to discourage smoking and not to ban smoking. In his address, he said:‘ Sri Lanka signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the WHO in 2003 as the first Asian country to ratify the convention. The convention was effective since 2005. About 153 parties have signed the convention now. In 2006, Sri Lanka introduced the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act to safeguard public health. As of the Act, regulations were needed to be formulated in 2008 to control tobacco use. The former Health Minister formulated pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.

When the Bill was presented for Cabinet approval, former Ministers Basil Rajapaksa and Sarath Amunugama spoke against it. Basil Rajapaksa said the Bill would have negative impact on tourism and on the tax income of the country. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that tourists will not come to Sri Lanka due to these regulations. These regulations do not ban smoking. We only discourage smoking by warning them. However, the Bill did not receive Cabinet approval. Former Health Minister and now President Maithripala Sirisena gazetted pictorial health warnings without a bill on August 8, 2012. Tobacco companies were given a grace period and it was extended several times.

Tobacco companies sought an injunction order from the Appeal Court on February 20, 2013 but the Appeal Court rejected it. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned former Health Minister Sirisena and questioned him on this issue and spoke against the implementation of pictorial health warnings. The Tobacco companies with guidance of former President Rajapaksa, once again sought an injunction order of the Supreme Court and won. The Chief Justice also instructed to reduce the pictorial health warnings upto 50-60 percent of the surface area. Accordingly it was once again gazetted by the then Health Minister. The regulations were to come into effect from January 1, 2015. At that time we were opposition MPs. This is the history of this Bill.

As at now, many countries have imposed this law. Our world-ranking on tobacco control, which was 47 rose to No. 2 after the implementation of this law. President Sirisena earned international recognition for his initiative. A pictorial warning is more effective than a thousand words. These pictorial warnings should be subjected to a roster every six months. Those who violate the regulations will be subjected to a fine of Rs. 50,000 and a year’s imprisonment. This is a historical step in the country. Likewise, I will present the Drug Policy Bill in the next Parliament session.