Tough Tobacco, Alcohol Laws Now in Force in Sri Lanka -
12-13-2006, 10:12 AM
The work of civil society has prevailed over the powerful tobacco and alcohol industry in Sri Lanka in pushing for legislation under the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act which came into effect in Friday. The most important features of the Act is the complete ban on promotions and advertisements of alcohol and tobacco in print and electronic media and public places. The legislation also bans the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, that is individuals under the age of twenty-one. In addition, there is a ban on smoking in indoor public venues as well as enclosed outdoor venues. However, restaurants, for example, with a seating capacity of over 30 will be able to set up designated smoking and non smoking sections.
"This legislation is a sign of development for Sri Lanka," said Kumari Welagedera, Programme Officer for Media and Information at ADIC, the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre. "ADIC is extremely happy. It's not our business making laws because it is up to the government but civil society has to have a role."
This Act originated in 1997 when a presidential committee was appointed to investigate into these issues pertaining to alcohol and tobacco. From the work of that presidential task force emerged the tobacco and alcohol national policy for Sri Lanka. ADIC and other community based organizations actively appealed to all political parties to push this legislation through. "We knew we had to get everyone involved," said Welagedera. "The JHU was at the forefront of these measures. They pushed it in Parliament. The alcohol and tobacco industries got worked up and filed a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court but we won."
It was the Minister of Health, Nimal Siripala De Silva who then took it up in the Ministry of Health and proposed it in Parliament.
Tobacco and alcohol companies were flooding the newspapers with advertisements, using their last few days of freedom to publicise their products to the masses. Labels by Alpha Orient Lanka took out a full page advertisement in a newspaper, showing all the different types of alcohol available for purchase. Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) took out an advertisement as well to inform the public on compliance with the new laws, stating that as a responsible corporate citizen, CTC supports the new law enacted to regulate the tobacco industry.
Dinesh Dharmadasa, Corporate & Regulatory Affairs Director of the CTC stated that "The Company which was self regulated for several years, has already voluntarily curtailed its Branded product advertising, sponsorships and other such activities, taking into consideration the controversy which surrounds the product it produces." He said he doesn't feel the CTC would be affected by this legislation since the company has already halted its advertising and sponsorships. The company has removed 99% of posters in shops by last week and should be in full compliance by the end of this week.
Chairman of the Three Coins Company, Chandana Ukwatte told the Sunday Times FT, "Our own suspicion is that this legislation will fail miserably in restraining abusive behavior with regard to tobacco and alcohol. We acknowledge that all legislation aims at training citizens in good habits. But as famously said, if it fails to do that, it is a failure and this is what distinguishes a good form of legislation from a bad one." He said this legislation takes no cognizance of why there is widespread abuse of alcohol in “our culture, despite the historically determined social habit of equating abstinence with moral nobility.”
Prasanna Amerasinghe, Marketing Director at Lion Brewery said they were given no notice of the legislation before it was gazetted. "There are agreements we have signed and material in the marketplace which have to be removed.” (NG) There is a lot of panic in the marketplace." According to the legislation, name boards, lighted signs and tag lines are completely banned including sampling and trademark diversity. However, according to Amerasinghe, the police and the Excise Department and even health inspectors meant to enforce the legislation have not been briefed. (NG)