“The believing we do something when we do nothing is the first illusion of tobacco” - Emerson Out of the tobacco related deaths of 105 million in the 20th century, an eighty per cent was from the third world. The figure is alarmingly increasing at 5.5 million per year as at present, with Sri Lanka contributing 21,000. WHO report published in February 2008 projected that tobacco abuse may kill one billion people by the year 2100. In spite of the catastrophe, our authorities [both in Health and Justice] seems to be ‘worried’ about preserving the legal status of cigarette sales, taking the UK example in upholding the ‘Industry’s right to advertise their Brands’ and ‘Smokers personal Liberty’.
Margret Thatcher’s ‘Role’
The mafia paid Margret Thatcher, on her retirement millions through her son Mark’s MT- Foundation for her role in lobbying and advising on how to promote smoking in the third world.
In July 1992, both Philip Morris and BAT, the US tobacco giants gets their first indication that the news had leaked to UK newspapers that Margaret Thatcher had become their consultant and appoint political trouble shooters the task of creating counter.What they are capable of!
Manufacturer of Sri Lanka’s number one killer, addressing the shareholders, boasts of enhanced returns to them; increased contributions to state coffers and on employment creation. Surprisingly, helped by political lobbying, they find a place among the ‘10 best corporates’, at annual awards ceremonies usually patronized by a Cabinet Minister. Sri Lanka is not the only state being maneuvered by multinational tobacco giants. There has been attempt to sabotage ‘cigarettes in plain packaging’ by delaying legislation even in many developed nations. They have tried every possible method to halt the imposition of Graphic Pictorial Health Warnings [GPHW] on packs of cigarettes, appealing that the warnings impinge the companies’ right to use the conceptual ‘Legitimate Registered Trademarks’. Prevalence of tobacco use has dropped in some developed countries but remains to increase in developing nations; it is the highest amongst people of low educational background and among the poor and disregarded people; also amongst populations of low informative background and the deprived, marginalised people, the target categories of the Mafia.
" If tobacco smoking and other tobacco related products are not controlled even at this late stage, thousands will die of oral and lung cancer in the future. ‘Multinational Tobacco Mafia’ kills 60 humans in a day in our thrice blessed nation."
From Parliament to Courts
The Parliament had unanimously approved covering 80 per cent with GPHW, and the Court of Appeal had delivered a judgment limiting it to a maximum of 60 percent. The Minister says he was offered a bribe by the other mafia, a princely sum sufficient not just for the proverbial ‘Seven generations’, but many more. Believing the honourable man; we question what action he initiated against the perpetrators? Surely, the Minister who is also the powerful General Secretary of the ruling party will not hesitate to act and he cannot lie to the people; but then we are compelled to conclude he is thoroughly incapable of handling the issues backed by mafia.
The sole manufacturer and distributor of cigarettes sold in the island challenged the Regulations for GPHW in the Court of Appeal on September 20, the company claimed that the regulations as ultra vires; that it exceed the authority of the Ministry. The Court of Appeal reserved its judgment for May 12, 2014, while the Supreme Court issued an interim order staying the implementation of Regulations. A proud company releases a communique stating, “We confirm that the interim order issued by the Supreme Court will remain in force and approval of the Regulations by Parliament will not prevent the Court of Appeal from determining the validity of the Regulations”.
Did state lawyers derelict their Duty?
The company lawyers argued that regulations violate the company’s intellectual property rights. The Court ruling gave the company more space to display their Brand, meaning advertise. We are baffled to understand why the state lawyers failed in raising objections under the law that banned tobacco advertising. The judgment says while protecting the health of citizens, the rights of a business to use its trademarks on products was considered. Who is supreme? Combined power of all the Legislators, [the 225 people’s representatives who unanimously agreed] or the authorities and the Multinational Tobacco Mafia?
“Hence, Ceylon Tobacco Company is not required to comply with the said Regulations at this stage until a decision is made by Court. Therefore we will continue to produce and sell cigarettes to the market as usual without any changes to its current packs,”
-- Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC
"The Parliament had unanimously approved covering 80 per cent with GPHW, and the Court of Appeal had delivered a judgment limiting it to a maximum of 60 percent. The Minister says he was offered a bribe by the other mafia, a princely sum sufficient not just for the proverbial ‘Seven generations’, but many more"
History of GPHW
During the presidential elections in 2005, Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to end the tobacco menace by legislation. The result was NATA Act no 1, of 2006. We were the first Asian state and the fourth in the world to ratify the WHO/FCTC that came into force in 2005. In 2006 company sued the then Minister Nimal Siripala and the government officials, on a clause of the tobacco control law that prohibited smoking in public places. The clause, introduced in line with the FCTC, [Framework Convention on Tobacco Control] was put into place after a study of the harmful effects of “passive smoking.”
Curbing the global tobacco menace
As Reuters reported a few days ago, on October15, India, ranked 136th on the use of health warnings wants cigarette packs to have 85% space stamped with GPHW joining with countries like Thailand and Australia where stringent marketing rules apply. This invariably will reduce the appeal of tobacco products and put a stop on only remaining advertising gimmick for the industry. According to ITCP [International Tobacco Control Project] a group of more than 350 global organisations estimates, the present 900,000 tobacco related deaths per year in India could reach to an alarming1.5 million by 2020 if the state derelicts its duty.
“The new rule will be effective from 1st April 2015. The war against tobacco consumption is very important for everybody to win. Tobacco means nothing else except death,”--Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardha.
Psychologists urge the use of GPHW of size larger than 75 % to derive effective results. They emphasize the regulations as useful in the long run to encourage give up and discourage beginners of the habit of smoking. If tobacco smoking and other tobacco related products are not controlled even at this late stage, thousands will die of oral and lung cancer in the future. ‘Multinational Tobacco Mafia’ kills 60 humans in a day in our thrice blessed nation. The government has to hold its ground; more steps, including regular increases in taxes and a ban on product display at supermarket counters, one other remaining advertising gimmick of the industry needs to be curtailed. Minister Maithripala Sirisena no doubt has a genuine interest in working towards a free tobacco nation. His courageous decision to cover eighty per cent of the cigarette packet with pictorial warnings amidst innumerable threats aimed at him is laudable. We congratulate the Minister, the receiver of ‘World Tobacco Day Award 2013’, but he should act fast to alleviate any doubts he has already created in the minds of the general public by his failure to take action against the drug companies that attempted to bribe him.
‘Who will rid us of this pestilent industry’?
The Minister must take a cue from Charity Ngilue, the Kenyan Health Minister who introduced stringent enactment against tobacco sales in 2005; referring to a cigarette brand named ‘Cool’, she said, “stuffing ourselves with the poisons and irritants in tobacco is not ‘cool’…tobacco kills half of those who use it. This can certainly not be ‘cool’”. However, the Mafia ensured Ngilue out of office in two years ;a trumped up charge of corruption saw her exit. Enact laws, or if necessary Constitutional Amendments to control the sale and use of Tobacco products; our Gazettes on regulations are too trifling remedies that are subject to legal interpretations. The Anti-tobacco propaganda carried out by NATA and Alcohol and Drug Information Centre [ADIC] have successfully brought down percentage of smoking among Sri Lankans from 33 per cent to 22.6 per cent and every attempt must be made to sustain this trend. In a letter to a newspaper paraphrasing King Henry II asks the indomitable fighter, Professor Carlo Fonseka, Former Chairman NATA, “Who will rid us of this pestilent industry?”
" It is the highest amongst people of low educational background and among the poor and disregarded people; also amongst populations of low informative background and the deprived, marginalised people, the target categories of the Mafia."
Mafia hijacks legislative processes
Under the theme, ‘Tobacco industry interference a global brief’, WHO points out in a paper, six strategies practiced by the industry.
They 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. In Costa Rica, they created a rift between two ministers; the Minister of Finance and Minister of Health when the former introduced strict tobacco control measures. The Malavian Tobacco Control Commission worked closely with the industry when they argued that WHO campaign would destroy a good portion of its tobacco earnings. They used statistics issued by Tobacco industry sponsored International Tobacco Growers Association. [ITGA]
They create a positive picture in the minds of the public by distributing money to poor farmers; build hospitals and police stations etc. In Sri Lanka the company was actively engaged in social service work. As reported in Moscow Times a few years back, “Tobacco Industry contributes leisurely to projects that seek to help, homeless, mentally ill and elderly” The mafia never clash ‘head-on ’ with the authorities, but manipulate others to speak on their behalf in highlighting of smokers’ rights
and attempt to discredit established scientific findings on health hazards of smoking: they had the audacity to even challenge the medical opinions, saying, ‘prove the findings that cigarette smoking causes disease’.