A march organised to flag down tobacco menace

The parade organised by MOH to mark World No Tobacco Day


Calling attention to the tobacco epidemic and the attempts made by the tobacco industry to lure children and youth, the Non-Communicable Diseases Unit of the Ministry of Health (MOH) organised a parade on Friday, June 7, to mark ‘World No Tobacco Day’. The event was organised in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

The parade commenced at the MOH premises and concluded at the Viharamahadevi Park, where speeches and activities related to the topic were held at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre. 

Speaking at the event, the WHO Representative to Sri Lanka, Dr. Alaka Singh, underscored the significance and timeliness of this year’s theme: protecting children from tobacco industry interference. “In 2022, worldwide, at least 37 million young people in the age group of 13-17 years used some form of tobacco. Children are especially being targeted as the tobacco industry needs to replace the millions who either die or quit tobacco use every year,” said Dr. Singh.

Commending Sri Lanka’s progress in the control of tobacco, she added, “Sri Lanka is ranked 4th in Asia and 13th globally. However, we must continue to be vigilant of our children. On peer pressure, evidence from other countries shows that countries like Sri Lanka- where smoking levels are relatively low- the tobacco industry uses subtle and innovative ways of attracting children with visually attractive, pleasant-tasting and socially acceptable products to create a sense of gratification  among the youth, which is more likely to lead to regular and higher intensity use.”
Dr. Singh further said that the existing laws must be implemented diligently, aligned fully to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and backed by credible regulation. “Sri Lanka has taken important preemptive steps–for example, the prevention of the introduction of e-cigarettes (electronic-cigarettes) by making it illegal under the smokeless tobacco laws.” 

She also lauded the efforts by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) for putting forward three

Minister of Health Dr Ramesh Pathirana 
 (Photos courtesy 
Ministry of Health)

additional proposals for legislation: the introduction of plain packaging, ban on the sale of the single stick cigarettes, and an imposition of an 100 metre tobacco and alcohol free zone from the perimetres of schools and religious places where no tobacco products will be available. 

Minister of Health Dr. Ramesh Pathirana also spoke at the event, stating, “In the 1950s, our life expectancy at birth was approximately 50 years, and now it is 79-80 years. Many factors contributed to this improvement. We can be among the countries with the highest life expectancy at birth, like Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, whose life expectancy at birth is about 84-85 years. It’s not far-fetched. If we could reduce or eliminate our tobacco and alcohol use, it would be a huge strength in the calculation of life expectancy. So we should all strive towards this goal.” 

He further noted that efforts are being made to strengthen laws and regulations related to the sale and use of tobacco products and to toughen tax policies to discourage tobacco and alcohol use.
State Minister of Health, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, highlighted the importance of dedicating a day to remember the dangers of tobacco use. She also addressed the impact of second-hand smoking. “Although people may think they are not at risk because they don’t smoke, data from previous years shows that they are still at risk,” said Dr. Arambepola. 

MOH Secretary Dr. Palitha Mahipala spoke about the ways in which youth are being lured into smoking, “With smoking decreasing, e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches have been introduced recently. While NATA has made these products illegal, the situation remains grim. E-cigarette use is more prevalent among youth than adults. Therefore, we should discuss this issue more,” said Dr. Mahipala. 

In recognition of the efforts made in combating the use of tobacco products in the country, the World No Tobacco Day award was handed to ADIC (Alcohol and Drug Information Centre) by the WHO.
An ironwood sapling was also planted at the Viharamahadevi Park.

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