HEALTH-SRI LANKA: Tobacco, Alcohol Ad Ban Seeks Public Support

Feizal Samath

COLOMBO, Jun 19 1999 (IPS) - The Sri Lankan government, dogged by a strong industrial lobby against a proposed ban on the advertising of tobacco and alcohol products, is trying a new tactic — public support to enforce the ban.

The government Tuesday launched a campaign to garner public support for the ban which was due to have been enforced from January this year but was stalled by protests from local industry and because of legal implications on fundamental rights.

“Support the legislation against tobacco and alcohol advertising,” said a full-page ad in the state-run ‘Daily News’ Tuesday. Pro-ban activists said this was the start of a six- month campaign to enlist public support for the state campaign.

“You are the only one with plans for his future. Remember it’s your child they’re talking to,” the advertisement, showing a large picture of a baby, said in an obvious reference to tobacco and alcohol ad campaigns targeting youngsters.

It asked readers to respond in writing if they felt ads were an unhealthy influence on their children.

On the same day of the public appeal, the government said it had issued a directive prohibiting state organisations from accepting tobacco or alcohol related advertisements and sponsorships.

A government task force appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in early 1997 formulated a national policy on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. An advertising ban on these items is part of the policy.

Last month, the Sri Lankan president was presented the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tobacco Free World Award for outstanding contribution to public health. The award was given in Colombo on the eve of WHO’s No Tobacco Day, May 31. Previous winners include South African President Nelson Mandela.

The government has initiated several public health programmes since 1994, but the most controversial has been the attempt to curb tobacco and liquor consumption.

Sri Lanka’s tobacco and alcohol industries say they were not consulted on the national policy. “We were never consulted on this issue,” Gottfried Thoma, managing director of Ceylon Tobacco Co. (CTC), the main cigarette maker and a subsidiary of British-American Tobacco Co told IPS in an interview last September.

“Before any policy is formulated, it is only right and reasonable that you hear the views of the other side as well,” Thoma said.

Officials from Sri Lanka’s Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), a non-governmental agency leading a community campaign, believe industrial pressure against the ban may have also contributed to delays in implementing the legislation.

But while the government is now seeking public support for its legislation, other measures are being taken to implement its national policy.

Some months ago, smoking and the sale of cigarettes were banned in government institutions and plans are afoot to enforce the ban in other public places. Smoking is already not permitted inside cinemas but implementation of this law is weak.

The government has also asked the Treasury to allocate 30 million rupees (428,000 dollars) to the Sports Ministry to be disbursed among sports organisations that rely on sponsorship from tobacco and alcohol firms.

A ban on sponsorship of sporting events by the tobacco and alcohol trade has also been simultaneously held up by the legislation. According to earlier plans, this ban was to be effective from July 1999.

In February this year, Justice Minister Prof Gamini Lakshman Peiris told IPS that draft legislation to enforce the ban was too wide in scope and had some implications with regard to fundamental rights.

He said government lawyers were taking another look at the legislation and clearing doubtful clauses before presenting it to Parliament. Peiris denied the government was having second thoughts on the ban because of opposition from the industry.

“I think the bottlenecks have been cleared as far as the legislation is concerned,” said Olcott Gunasekera, member of the Presidential Task Force. But he admitted that industry pressure had delayed the ban.

Gunasekera said the legislation was likely to be put before Parliament by August or at least before the government budget in November.

A spokesperson at Masters Advertising, which is handling the public awareness campaign, said it was aimed at ascertaining the public viewpoint with regard to the ban.

She said the six-month campaign, in newspapers, television and radio, would deal with various aspects of tobacco and alcohol and its impact on society. “We would be citing statistics and data in our public awareness advertisements.”

Nishan De Mel, an economist and another member of the Presidential Task Force, said the campaign was also intended to help people understand why legislation against the advertising of tobacco and alcohol was necessary.

“There seems to be some misconception that the national policy aims at banning consumption of alcohol and tobacco. This is not so. It is banning the advertising of these products because of their harmful effects on people,” he said.

Earlier this week, industry officials said they believed the ban would not be enforced until their representations are heard. Vijaya Malalasekera, legal affairs director at CTC, was quoted as saying in a television interview that they had received assurances from the president’s office that the ban would not be implemented until they were heard.

A government statement, this week, quoted a World Bank report on ‘Government and the Economics of Tobacco Control’ as saying that some 500 million people alive today would, on current smoking patterns, eventually die by tobacco use.

It said that more than half of these would be children and teenagers.

The government statement said that the WHO and the World Bank had pledged support to Sri Lanka’s national policy on tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

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HEALTH-SRI LANKA: Tobacco, Alcohol Ad Ban Seeks Public Support

Feizal Samath

COLOMBO, Jun 16 1999 (IPS) - The Sri Lankan government, dogged by a strong industrial lobby against a proposed ban on the advertising of tobacco and alcohol products, is trying a new tactic — public support to enforce the ban.

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