About 600 people die daily due to tobacco, smoking and alcohol, a report issued by the Health Ministry said.
That is about 60 per cent of 1,000 deaths occurring daily in the country.
According to the finding, 20 per cent of patients in the country were suffering from diseases caused by tobacco and alcohol and drug addiction.
Being a country with free a health service, it is unaffordable for Sri Lanka to treat such patients for a prolonged time for free of charge with the strong view that the income generated through taxes on tobacco products were insufficient to cover the cost for the medication of the diseases caused by tobacco, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena backed a campaign to introduce compulsory pictorial warnings on cigarette packets to discourage people from using tobacco.
♦ Political leaders seem to be unanimous on their stand against smoking
♦ Hoping to use Parliamentary powers to continue their battle
Suresh Premachandran, Ajith P Perera, Sunil Handunneththi, Lalith Dissanayake and Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe
Accordingly the government in early February passed three regulations with the backing of the opposition parties in the Parliament, making it compulsory to cover 80 per cent of the surface of a cigarette packet with pictorial health warnings.
The three regulations were presented under the provisions of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act.
After the regulations were passed the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC), in what seems like putting forward its business first and leaving the health of general public behind, sought legal redress against the pictorial warnings regulation in the Court of Appeal and the verdict was given on May 12.
While the campaign was for 80 per cent surface area, the Appeal Court ruled that 50 to 60 per cent of the surface with pictorial warnings were sufficient.
Although the reaction over the ruling was mixed, the political leaders the Daily Mirror spoke to seemed to be unanimous on their stand against smoking.
In this contest several figures and political parties declared their stance on the ruling and on the whole issue of pictorial warnings.
The Fight for 80 percent continues: Govt
Deputy Minister of Health Lalith Dissanayake, one of the main figures who fought for the 80 per cent, said that the Appeal Court’s ruling was only the first step and they were still considering the alternations to achieve the target of covering the 80 per cent of the
“There are countries where 70 to 80 per cent of the surface is covered with warnings. That’s what we are trying to do. However, we are satisfied with the approval for 50 to 60 per cent for now as this is only the beginning,” he said.
He said another case was in the Supreme Court on the issue and said the Ministry was awaiting a verdict.
“50-60 was given by the Appeal Court as a writ decision but we have also got the Parliament to make decisions,” he said.
He said the gazette issued by the Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena was challenged by the businessmen saying that the Minister had no authority to do so.
“If we think on their side, they are only trying to protect their business. It is in businessmen’s nature to protect their business but we are trying to save the people from death,” he said
Deputy Minister Dissanayake said they would be able to deliver a large message to the people even from the 50 to 60 per cent of pictorial warnings.
It should be 80 per cent: UNP
However, the main opposition, United National Party (UNP) declaring its stance on the Appeal Court’s ruling, said that it was not effective and the UNP was still backed for the 80 per cent.
“Fifty per cent or sixty per cent of pictorial warnings are not effective to deliver a clear and strong health message to the people. We still believe it has to be 80 per cent. It covers only one side of a cigarette packet when it is 50 per cent but 80 per cent warnings on both sides of a packet,” UNP Parliamentarian Ajith P. Perera said.
He said the policy making of the country should be carried out by the Executive, the Parliament including the Cabinet and it was not the duty of the Courts to make policies.
He said that the UNP would fully support for such a bill asking for the implementation of 80 per cent of pictorial warnings.
Multi-National Companies more powerful than Parliament: JVP
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said the decreasing of the 80 per cent of pictorial warnings approval given by the Parliament to 50 per cent by the CA, showed the power of Nulti-National Companies.
“This shows that Multi-National Companies are powerful and go even beyond the Parliament,” JVP parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti said.
He said the manner which the Parliament followed when impeaching Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, could also be adhered to in the endorsing of pictorial warnings.
“The Parliament had the utmost power when impeaching CJ Shirani Bandaranayake. Today that power had been decreased when approving 80 per cent of pictorial warnings due to the power of a Multi-National Company,” he said.
MP Handunnetti said that pictorial warnings should be displayed on cigarette packets and that his party fully backed the decision.
Parliament decision should be respected: JHU
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), one of the main political parties to raise its voice against smoking and fully backed the decision of gaining the 80 per cent pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, said that it would continue to represent for the cause and would continue its crusade to gain thew full 80 per cent on the packets.
JHU Western Provincial Councilor and National Organiser Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe said the reduction by 20 per cent from 80 to 60 was a result of the influence of Multi-National Company.
“These companies are so powerful that they had challenged the Health Minister who wanted 80 per cent of the packet covered with pictorial warnings. It was approved by the Parliament but multinational companies challenged it finally resulting 60 per cent. Even the Health Minister is not satisfied with the 60 per cent,” he said.
He said the JHU had been fighting against the tobacco and alcohol from the very beginning.
Health Minister must challenge the Court order: TNA
The main Tamil Coalition of the country, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that it fully endorsed the decision of the Parliament and said the Health Minister should challenge the ruling. “We are backing the Parliament decision to impose 80 per cent pictorial warnings. I think the Health Minister should challenge the ruling given by the Court of Appeal,” TNA Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said.