Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya (middle) and Dr Sajeeva Ranaweera (R) at the briefing, Prof Jennifer Perera addressing the press briefing
The Centre for Combatting Tobacco (CCT) recently introduced the trilingual mobile app ‘Tobacco Unmasked (TU) HotSpots’ to boost public participation in combating tobacco use. Colombo University Medical Faulty Dean Prof. Jennifer Perera, CCT Director Dr Mahesh Rajasuriya, CCT Deputy Project Director Dr Manuja Perera and Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) expert on tobacco and alcohol abuse Dr Sajeewa Ranaweera briefed the media on how the app can be used to monitor and counter activities of the tobacco industry. The CCT is mandated to monitor tobacco industry activities and their interference in tobacco control in Sri Lanka. It was established under the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and is hosted by the Colombo University Medical Faulty.
The CCT developed the free mobile app to enable the public to report cases of the tobacco industry interference via their mobile phones. “The big picture of this concept is to reduce or prevent tobacco use among the public. Reducing the factors or drivers leading to high tobacco use is the main principle in controlling the tobacco epidemic. The main driver of the tobacco epidemic is the tobacco industry,” Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya said. He noted that unlike the other epidemics, like dengue for example, the tobacco epidemic had a responsible body that spread it among the general public. “Those responsible bodies are the tobacco companies. To control tobacco use, we have to control the activities of the tobacco industry,” he said, adding that the industry had to be regularly monitored. “This app facilitates the monitoring process, so we can be alert on the current and the future strategic plans of tobacco companies,” he said.
“The cost of treating tobacco victims is much higher than the profits brought in by these tobacco companies,” Prof. Jennifer Perera revealed. Meanwhile, Dr Manuja Perera elaborated that the ‘Case Fatality Rate’ due to tobacco was extremely high. “If the tobacco users do not face death due any fatal disease, their life expectancy will be reduced by 12 years,” she said. But the healthcare sector alone cannot eradicate tobacco. “Tobacco industry owners all over the worlds are multi-billionaires. Therefore constant public support is needed and appreciated in carrying out this mission,” Dr Perera added.
- The big picture of this concept is to reduce or prevent tobacco use among the public. Reducing the factors or drivers leading to high tobacco use is the main principle
- The CCT is mandated to monitor tobacco industry activities and their interference in tobacco control in Sri Lanka
- The main driver of the tobacco epidemic is the tobacco industry,” Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya said. He noted that unlike the other epidemics, like dengue for example, the tobacco epidemic had a responsible body that spread it among the general public
- The app was initially launched in April 2018 as a pilot project to measure its feasibility and acceptability. An upgraded version of the app was launched in March 2019
The app was initially launched in April 2018 as a pilot project to measure its feasibility and acceptability. An upgraded version of the app was launched in March 2019 based on previous performance. The third and most recent version enables users to submit reports or lodge complaints in Sinhala, Tamil or English. The language option makes the reporting process easier for users and complies with state rules and regulations. When reporting specific cases, users must enter the location of the incident and details on how the tobacco company targeted particular individuals.
Users can report tobacco and alcohol violations under the app’s three reporting categories, namely ‘HotSpots’, ‘Media’ and ‘Interference’. The ‘HotSpots’ category reports geographical locations, including selling tobacco-related products to persons under 21 years, influencing vendors, promotional material displayed in shops and influencing done by political leaders and government officers. Media channels promoting tobacco, cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs can be reported through the ‘Media’ icon. Direct or indirect attempts of interference by members of the tobacco industry, or their representatives, can be reported under the ‘Interference’ category. The users can upload a photograph as evidence. The public can report incidents anonymously through ‘cct.lk’, while having access to a 24-hour hotline via the ‘contact us’ icon.
Dr Manuja Perera
The app’s tobacco surveillance system and its Geographic Information System (GIS) map, named ‘Community Driven Tobacco Surveillance System’, are designed to provide people with CCT powers. That is the power to observe activities related to the tobacco industry. “The data received by the public is fed on to an online SL map called ‘TU HotSpots Map’, and through GIS it gets published on our website, while indicating the locations and areas where incidents occurred. It can be freely downloaded from the Google Play Store for Android users and the Apple App Store for Apple users,” Dr Perera explained.
Data is uploaded onto the ‘TU HotsSpots Map’ and can be viewed by registered users for up to three months. The public has limited access to view snapshots of cases of tobacco industry interference that have occurred island-wide. The map can be accessed through the ‘Map’ icon, and data is published within the day of reporting, after being reviewed. “We do not publish all the data we receive through the app. The CCT is an authorized body and we are accountable to the data released to the public. Therefore we verify all data before publishing it,” Dr Perera explained.
“We send a quarterly report to the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) citing all reported cases and other relevant information. The reports of the third category are sent directly to the NATA, only if necessary,” Dr Perera said. A Technical Advisory Panel, convened every 3 months, discusses all cases and files a report to the NATA. The NATA can take further action pertaining to reported cases. “We are planning to send a letter from the CCT to all Facebook users who have been reported, while informing them to be alert and responsible for their own actions. The main partner organizations of the CCT are NATA, SLMA, WHO and they should be given due credit for their immense contribution,” Dr Perera said.
Moving forward, a website for a South Asian Regional Observatory, to monitor the entire region of eight countries will be launched tomorrow, February 20.