Not withstanding the legal wrangling and other obstacles involving the enactment of Prevention of Tobacco and Alcohol Act, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was firmly determined to introduce amendments to the Act to save millions of Sri Lankans from the menace of tobacco and smoking – the young generation in particular – Prof. Carlo Fonseka said yesterday.
Addressing the media in Colombo on the eve of the new anti tobacco and smoking regulations being taken up, debated and passing in Parliament today, Prof. Fonseka who is also the Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) said it would take another few months to implement the regulations – manly the 80% covering of the surface of cigarette packets with pictorial warnings such as images of oral and lung cancer and respiratory deceases – as there were much ground work to be done before the full implementation of the regulations.
“I can assure you that the new regulations could be implemented within the first half of this year as we at the NATA have the full backing of President Rajapaksa, the government and Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena,” Prof. Fonseka stressed.
Prof. Fonseka said President Rajapaksa took a special interest to make Sri Lanka a tobacco and smoking free country by 2015 despite the huge income collected by the government as taxes from tobacco and alcohol.
He has dedicated a paragraph in the first chapter of his ‘Mahinda Chintana policy framework to the ‘Mathata Thitha’ project. The promise to eradicate terrorism comes in the 8th chapter of the ‘Mahinda Chintana.
Commenting on the history of the Act, Prof. Fonseka said it was first introduced in 2005 and passed and implemented in 2007 as the Mahinda Rajapaksa government wanted it in the stature book as early as possible. The NATA was established in 2007 and Sri Lanka was proud to claim for having one of the most effective anti tobacco and alcohol laws in the world. Sri Lanka has introduced these laws with mote teeth under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) under the UN.
One of the main pieces of law under the regulations of Tobacco and Alcohol Act was to cover cigarette packets with pictorial warnings but the publication of the relevant gazette notification in 2008 was delayed as the Tobacco company petitioned to the Court of Appeal against it.
Asked whether there were any legal implications if and when Parliament passed the regulations while the Court of Appeal is still to deliver its ruling on May 5th, Prof. Fonseka said the President, the government and Health Minister had determined to go ahead with implementing the regulations for the larger good of the people in the country.
The objective of the government and NATA was to save the people specially the children and young generation from narcotics, tobacco and alcohol but tobacco and smoking bring the most devastating and harmful effects on a population in terms of health and financial cost.
“There will be many tactics by interested parties and cigarette companies do their utmost to thwart the implementation of these regulations but our business is to go forward and save the people from this menace with the blessings of the government, the health ministry and president Rajapaksa,” Prof. Fonseka emphasized. (Sandun A. Jayasekera)
Pix by Pradeep Pathirana