CCT launches SARC-CCT to pioneer tobacco control in the region
Tobacco–the only legal product that gradually kills consumers when used entirely as intended continues to be an obstacle with its powerful industry.
The tobacco industry is a global entity and uses many tactics to engage new users, especially children and youth. The global response to this global problem has been the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Article 5.3 of the FCTC mandates that member countries, in development and execution of their tobacco-related public health policies such as tobacco tax, ‘should act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry under the national law.’
The Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) is the Sri Lankan observatory hosted by the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Colombo under Article 5.3 of FCTC. Since its inception in October 2016, CCT has been monitoring the tobacco industry for three years in Sri Lanka.
South Asian Regional Consortium for Combating Tobacco (SARC-CCT)
In a revolutionary decision to expand the tobacco industry observatory to incorporate all South Asian countries, SARC-CCT launched and will function as a tobacco observatory for the South Asian region. CCT will provide technical expertise for the projects and will act as the coordinating body in the development and maintenance of the Centre. The International Union will fund the initiative against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
Organisations engaged in tobacco control and tobacco industry monitoring from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan will partner with SARC-CCT, generating a virtual network of tobacco industry monitoring bodies in the region. The inauguration was followed by a three-day capacity building workshop for the country focal points of SARC-CCT.
- Global tobacco industry uses many tactics to engage new users
- To incorporate all South Asian countries, SARC-CCT is launched... it will function as a tobacco observatory for South Asia
- The tobacco industry in Sri Lanka has many reasons to interfere
Launch of SARC-CCT Pix by Kusan Pathiraja
Tobacco cultivation in Sri Lanka will be reduced by 2022 - Dr Abeykoon
In his speech, Dr Palitha Abeykoon, Chairperson of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Sri Lanka said by 2022, we will see a reduction in the cultivation of tobacco. “There’s a lot of pressure by the tobacco industry and we see many types of articles appearing in the papers. We have also got cabinet approval for the following suggestions; no sale of tobacco within 100 metres of any school, the introduction of plain packaging. We have been trying to get cabinet approval to ban the sale of single sticks for almost nine months, but we haven’t succeeded. Every time this came before the cabinet it has been pushed aside. Enforcement has to be stringent. The tobacco industry in Sri Lanka has many reasons to interfere. Our target is to bring the current prevalence of cigarette smoking from 15% to 10% by 2022. The production of cigarettes has dropped by one million sticks by last year. The CCT should also monitor the non-cigarette tobacco industry in this country such as the beedi.”
Research doesn’t reach out to masses - Dr Razia Pendse
Shedding light on the tobacco control milestones in Sri Lanka, Dr Razia Pendse, World Health Organisation Representative (WHO) to Sri Lanka said that the FCTC is an important instrument that should and must be used. Sri Lanka is the first country in Asia to ratify the FCTC and it has had many successes including pictorial warnings and plain packaging. But industry interference remains. An important tool to combat industry interference is the economy. A lot of research has been done, but it doesn’t reach out to the masses. Together we need a stronger voice.”
Industry targets high-ranking government officials - Dr Mary Assunta
During the inauguration, several speakers had been invited to shed light on the local and global efforts taken in combating the tobacco menace. Speaking on the FCTC Article 5.3 and its importance, Dr Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor at the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance said that guidelines were developed in 2008 where 181 countries adopted them. “But fast forward 10 years and in 2018 the parties to the FCTC of all income levels report that the tobacco industry interference remains a problem. Therefore, despite the existence of the guidelines, a lot needs to be done to implement them. Accountability and transparency are important measures for the tobacco industry.
According to Recommendation 2, governments have been asked to establish measures to interact with the tobacco industry and ensure transparency of those interactions that are strictly necessary. Recommendation 5 states that information provided by the tobacco industry must be transparent. So, what kind of information can governments ask? Governments can ask for the marketing expenditure, in Sri Lanka, the government has banned six tobacco advertisements, but that doesn’t mean that the industry is not adopting marketing activities.
"Government officials should have the freedom to do their utmost in terms of tobacco control and they need to be protected"
These activities are focused on a retailers’ level. So Governments can ask for this information and what types of activities they do, what the incentives are given to the retailers. By banning promotions and sponsorships, it doesn’t mean they have cut down their marketing budgets, but they would have shifted to a different platform. Media expenditure is also important because the industry needs it. In addition to that, philanthropic contributions should also be given attention.”
She further said that Recommendation three states that parties should reject partnerships. “The industry likes to enter into partnerships, sign MoUs simply because these documents are difficult to track and monitor. Recommendation 4.3 talks about avoiding conflict of interest for government officials and employees. So how can governments build a firewall around their efforts towards tobacco control? Government officials should have the freedom to do their utmost in terms of tobacco control and they need to be protected. Article 5.3 talks about how governments can do this.
Some governments have developed a code of conduct across the civil service. Recommendation 6 talks about discouraging the industry to do so-called corporate social responsibility projects to protect high-ranking government officials from being targeted by the industry. So the industry is specific and tactical in targeting government officials.”
Will uplift the standard of public health by controlling tobacco consumption - Prof. Wijeyaratne
Chief Guest of the evening, Prof Chandrika Wijeyaratne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo commenced her speech by assuring that the University will give the best of support in taking the initiative forward. “I’m very proud of the CCT for having given the leadership in creating this regional initiative, particularly in establishing a single SARC-CCT and I wish you the best. I’m sure we can collectively network to control the tobacco epidemic in the very epicentre of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and thereby set an example to the rest of the world. Sri Lanka has always been a regional and world-leader in the health category and we believe in uplifting the standard of public health by controlling the costly menace such as tobacco. Let me recapitulate some of our own experiences during our career development. Our teachers addressed the key determinants of health rather than concentrating on cures. Over the past four decades, even our forefathers imbibed in us to have that deep sense of obligation and commitment to carry the flag forward.
They have made us see the big picture of poverty and vulnerability to the causative agents causing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). May the South Asian effort of the CCT grow from strength to strength for the betterment of people in our region who look to us health professionals as the national investment that we have sacrificed so much for.”