aily Mirror guest columnist K. K. S. Perera whose articles have been widely acclaimed for exposing the powerful mafias behind the promotion of tobacco and big pharma, revealed last Tuesday that of the tobacco related deaths of 105 million in the 20th century, eighty percent were from the third world. The figures are increasing alarmingly at 5.5 million a year with Sri Lanka contributing 21000.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the number of people killed by tobacco abuse may reach a staggering one billion by the year 2100. The writer lamented that despite the warning of such a catastrophe some authorities both in health and the law appeared to be more concerned about preserving the legal status of cigarette sales, taking the British example to uphold the right of the industries to promote their brands and the personal freedom of those who want to smoke.
In this context a ruling given by the Dehiattakandiya Magistrate last week was significant. Magistrate Chamara Wickramanayake rejected complex legal arguments fired by lawyers representing two suspects who are being charged with using a boy below the age of 21 to distribute or promote cigarettes. He said he saw no reason why the case should not be pursued under the laws relating to the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA).
According to our guest columnist, one of the most infamous cases in the world was evidence of how the tobacco mafia had paid Britain’s one time ‘Iron Lady’ Margret Thatcher millions of pounds through her son Mark’s MT-Foundation for her role in helping to promote tobacco sales in the third world. In 1992, two United States tobacco giants got information of a leak to British newspapers that Ms. Thatcher had been their consultant. The tobacco giants hired political trouble shooters to counter the exposures in the media.
In Sri Lanka the main cigarette manufacturer in its annual report boasted of bigger profits, extra contributions to the government through taxes and the creation of more jobs. Here and in many other countries multinational tobacco giants have tried various methods to halt the imposition of graphic pictorial health warnings on packs of cigarettes. They claim the warnings violate their right to use the legitimate registered trademarks. Data and reports by the WHO and other movements show that while tobacco use has declined in several rich countries mainly due to the strict imposition of tough laws, the use of tobacco is increasing in third world countries specially among the poor and those who have not had a proper education. These marginalised people languishing in different degrees of destitution and deprivation are the main targets of the tobacco mafias.
Sri Lanka’s Parliament, the supreme body of the sovereign people’s representatives, had by an unprecedented vote of all 225 MPs, approved legislation for 80 percent of the packet of cigarettes to be covered by a graphic pictorial health warning. But the law has yet not been implemented while a complex legal battle is going on in the courts.
For the presidential elections in 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa in his Mahinda Chinthanaya pledged he would enforce laws to end the tobacco menace. The result was the setting up of NATA but at every stage the tobacco mafia has countered the implementation of laws.
The WHO has warned that the tobacco mafia is using a six-pronged strategy to counter anti-tobacco legislation. The mafia will closely monitor the law makers and move in to take swift action, attacking a department or a politician who attempts to introduce anti-tobacco measures. There is no smoke without fire or fire without smoke and valid questions are being asked as to what extent this is happening in Sri Lanka.