RIGHT OF REPLY Front groups, poor farmers and tobacco barn owners

5 April 2018 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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This article is penned in response to the article which featured comments from ‘All Ceylon Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association’ and published on March 31 in the Daily Mirror. The article by the Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association was published in response to an article by Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, titled, “Manipulative tobacco cultivation no more a profitable livelihood. Tobacco Free Nation: Sri Lanka’s Dream” published on March 26.  

Comments of Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya:  

Comments like, “The tobacco industry has a long history of using front groups which often have had hidden links with the tobacco industry”, according to tobaccotactics.org (University of Bath, UK), are well researched and documented. A front group is “An organisation that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned.” Creating and using front groups, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a well-known tactic used by the tobacco industry (http://www.who.int/tobacco/publications/industry/interference/en/) to realise its goals and aspirations.  

Associated with the above ‘Response to Daily Mirror Article “Manipulative tobacco cultivation no more a profitable livelihood. Tobacco Free Nation: Sri Lanka’s Dream” dated Monday, 26th March 2018’, I clearly note at least two organisations/groups, if not three.   

The Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT), Faculty of Medicine and University of Colombo stand by the findings of the research work we have done in collaboration with the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention

The specialized public relations arm of a well-known advertising company in Sri Lanka, whose “spectrum of services encompasses External Image Building and Management for corporate clients, brands and individuals, Country and Reputation Management, Crisis Management and Media and PR Event Coordination and Management”, is one associated organisation. The ‘response’ has been sent to Daily Mirror through a PR coordinator of this specialized public relations arm!  

In addition to this specialized public relations arm and the advertising company, the other organisation that is noted here is the ‘author’ of this ‘response’, namely, All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owners’ Association (BOA). BOA doesn’t appear to have a website to declare its interests and source of funding and our previous attempts to make inquiries haven’t been successful. It’s quite clear that the poor tobacco farmer doesn’t readily identify with the more affluent Barn Owners.  

I can’t help, but recall what WHO states: The [tobacco] industry has a long history of using seemingly independent ’front groups’ to advance its case.  

In this context, I am not sure whether replying to each accusation mentioned in this ‘response’ from BOA is actually needed, as readers can decide for themselves the objectives and interests of this group as well as the above organisations.  

However, I want to state here that there have been instances where some good people in front groups have become whistle-blowers! We encourage such men and women of this country who work for front groups of tobacco industry to contact us, CCT (tobaccounmasked@gmail.com; 011 2581571; 0769 233435)  

The specialized public relations arm of a well-known advertising company in Sri Lanka, whose “spectrum of services encompasses External Image Building and Management for corporate clients, brands and individuals

Finally I wish to state that the Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT), Faculty of Medicine and University of Colombo stand by the findings of the research work we have done in collaboration with the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention.   

Last but not least I am curious as to why the BOA has failed to point out its stance, or the ‘corrected position’ on this particular finding made by CCT: Farmers are more willing to give up tobacco cultivation with the Government’s support. However, the barn owners (the tobacco industry’s) extended arm in the farming community, are not that willing.

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