The government today enacted three regulations with the backing of the opposition, making it compulsory to have pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets, as a cost-effective way of increasing public awareness on the dangers of tobacco use.
The regulations issued under the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act, were taken up for debate in the House today. Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena in his opening remarks during the debate said the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control required the parties to it to implement such health warnings on tobacco packages and labelling. The Minister said Sri Lanka became a signatory to this Convention in 2005 and as a follow-up action in the control of tobacco use, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol was established.
“We should have enacted these regulations in 2008. Yet, we are doing it today - six years afterwards. In Sri Lanka, there are 1000 deaths occurring on a daily basis, and non-communicable deceases, mostly caused by tobacco and alcohol use account for 60 percent of them,” he said.
As per the regulations, these pictorial health warnings should cover more than 30 per cent of cigarette packets. The Minister said this had been implemented successfully in countries such as Thailand, where such warnings covered more than 70 per cent of the packs.
“There is a direct interrelation between the rise of cancer patients and the smoking habit. Today, 20 per cent of hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases caused by tobacco use, drug addiction and alcoholism. Sri Lanka is a country offering free health services. It is unaffordable for us to treat such patients for a prolonged time. The income accumulated by way of taxes on tobacco products is hardly sufficient to recover the cost for the medication of these patients,” he said.
UNP MP Akila Viraj Kariyawasam supported the Health Ministry’s initiative in this regard. Yet, he said though there are laws, drug trafficking and alcoholism are on the rise in the country today. He charged that government politicians were behind such black economic activities.
“Today, laws remain in statute books,” he said. (KB & YP)