Monday, June 11, 2012

World No Tobacco Day a World Deception

Swarna Hansa Foundation
262, Densil Kobbekaduwa Mawatha, Battaramulla,Sri Lanka Tel/Fax: 2869901 E. mail
                                                                                                                                                                                31 – 05 - 2012
World No Tobacco Day a World Deception

Today May 31 is the World no Tobacco Day (WNTD). It was established by the United Nations World Health Organization in 1988 under World Health Assembly - WHA resolution calling for the celebration on WNTD every year on May 31st. It has to be noted that in fact WHO was to establish a World No Smoking Day earlier under WHA resolution in 1987, but had to give it up due to mounted public opinion that no smoking advocacy does not help controlling smoking, it has been proven a failure and seen as an indirect way of promoting smoking and what needs to be done is to control tobacco and its products. It should also be noted that even though the title of program was changed from World No Smoking Day to World No Tobacco Day the purpose of which is to draw attention to the health effects of the smoking was not changed. The WHO remained to be seen in time to come that its work has indirectly helped the industry

Today after celebrating the WNTD for quarter of a century it is pretty well seen when the WHO itself is stating that number of smoking related deaths worldwide has increased from 2.5 million in 1988 to 5 million in 2005 and to 8.5 million  this year. And the global cigarette market has expanded by 23% in 2012 reaching $ 464.4 billion.

The deceitfulness of the WNTD becomes more than clear when one looks at its performance in Sri Lanka.Starting in later Nineteen Eighties temperance movement in Sri Lanka was seen moving from conventional anti-smoking activities towards anti-tobacco activities and emerging of an anti-Tobacco movement. In addition there was a public opinion demanding the government to forget about appeals for self-control and make legislation in order to have an effective tobacco control.

After years of clamoring for legislation the government being unable to postpone enacting legislation for tobacco control any more in fact began to draft legislation. The government was then compelled by public opinion to present it to the Parliament.

It was in fact presented to the parliament but nothing happened after that. It was later revealed that the President has thrown it to the waste paper basket after a meeting with the CEO of the Tobacco Company. The President has assured him, that there will not be legislation for tobacco control.

After some time most surprisingly it was in the press that the President who derailed the anti-tobacco movement was honored with the prestigious WNTD award as an appreciation of her service to the anti- smoking- movement, and her indirect support to the Industry.

However the next government having made an election pledge to enact laws for tobacco control, enacted legislation and an implementing agency instituted accordingly called National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol. In fact immediately after the enactment of laws, and widespread belief that smoking will entail punishments and penalties, there was a drastic decrease of smoking as well as tobacco sales.  However after some time, when it was realized that there are no punishments or huge penalties as expected and the Authority is not capable of taking any punitive action added by continuous pronouncements that Authority is not interested in those adults who are smoking to die but only interested in protecting younger generation, the tobacco industry came back to its pre legislation position.  According to variety of surveys conducted by interested parties as well as by the industry recently, it was revealed that tobacco industry has well recovered. More over the Authority itself has admitted that there is an explosive increase of tobacco sales.

It is in this background that WNTD is celebrated this year in Sri Lanka. The happiest of this achievement in Sri Lanka is not certainly the industry, but those who were able to take the public for a ride. It is in this jubilation that the WHO decided to present the prestigious WNTD award to Sri Lanka, thus demonstrating to the world that World No Tobacco Day is yet another world deception.

Gallege Punyawardana
Head / SHF

The Swarna Hansa Foundation issued the relevant Press Release on WNTD in order to expose the hidden motive of the WHO in celebrating WNTD by taking first-hand information from Sri Lanka . Swarna Hansa has authority on making  this exposure, since it is Swarna Hansa  that turned the passive and ineffective anti- smoking movement in Sri Lanka in to an active and effective anti - tobacco movement. In fact at the start in the decade of 1980, the Swarna Hansa struggle was with the existing anti- smoking projects local as well as well funded foreign agencies. Swarna Hansa’s struggle was about  the need of legislation  to control the tobacco menace  by law, instead of self -regulation.

In order to evade the situation the government was saying  that there are no laws, and when a series of existing laws  are pointed out it was their view  that they cannot be enforced. Then they came out with the argument that there is no government policy on tobacco and alcohol. It took several years to make a policy. Then they were forced to draft legislation on the accepted policy. In  this struggle Swarna Hansa used WNTD to the  maximum  to have aggressive campaigns.

Having drafted the bill, the government was postponing its presentation to the Parliament when Swarna Hansa met the WHO , Director General at Kobe in Japan  and requested her to look in to the matter.
However after some time it was revealed that the CEO of the Ceylon Tobacco Company has met the highest in the government ( meaning the President ) and that she has promised him she would not proceed in making legislation.

Surprisingly in the following year on WNTD the WHO awarded that so called prestigious award  to the President, who derailed the well set Anti – tobacco movement and enormously harmed it
However the anti – tobacco control movement continued and at the next general election it was a peoples movement, and controlling tobacco was taken as  an election pledge.

The new government was also trying  to dodge it, but due to the embarrassing situation where a private member would present a bill to the Parliament, the Minister of Health had to present a bill to the Parliament. In the meantime he was elected the President of the WHA. After a couple of months  the bill  was passed and the public were under the impression that the law will be really strong and effective. No sooner the law was enforced there was a wide spread wave of arrests of law breakers by the police. Several law breakers were punished by the Magistrates and there was wide spread fear among the public about the law. Accordingly smoking was not seen in public But within  a few weeks it was in Press that  certain magistrates have warned the police for indiscriminate arrest of smokers and  tobacco dealers. Meanwhile the Industry was also seen retaining lawyers for those arrests by the police. Then there was hardly any  news about arrests or punishments for tobacco law breakers.Soo it was the public understanding that the law was not so strong as the public earlier believed. That means the law was and not having teeth. The law was found meaningless. Who  is responsible for it. Whoever it may be, at the following WNTD, this particular minister was the winner of that so called prestigious WHO award !
Meanwhile the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol ( NATA) was also  established under the law, and  was seen making pronouncements and sermons that it is not interested or least worried about those adults who are smoking. Let them smoke and die, but the NATA’s interest and worry is  about the  young ones, and the NATA’s effort is to save them, and protect them. NATA was seen  continuously  emphasizing that tobacco smoking Thirty years effort by Anti - Tobacco movement began to collapse. Accordingly Swarna Hansa believed that NATA reversed or turned the anti - tobacco movement back to its meaningless, ineffective Anti - Smoking Movement of thirty years ago. Swarna Hansa is convinced that NATA has thus greatly harmed the  tobacco control movement  in Sri Lanka.

As a result the tobacco industry has come back to its normal position well established and with ever increasing sales. The NATA itself was reported to have admitted that there is an explosive increase in tobacco sales. Therefore Swarna Hansa is convinced    that the so called prestigious award was awarded to NATA on this WNTD as a  gesture of appreciation of derailing tobacco control work in Sri Lanka. 

That is why the Swarna Hansa issued Press Release to tell it loudly to the World  that  WHO World No Tobacco Day is a World Deception.
Gallege  P.Alvis

The following news in National Daily “ Daily Mirror” of Saturday June 9, 2012is a strong evidence in support of Swarna Hansa Foundation’s  contention that WHO /WNTD Award to  government of Sri Lanka  GOSL/  National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol NATA is an appreciation of GOSL / NATA work to undermine tobacco control by legislation and revive and promote smoking control by self- regulation as required by the Industry.

Today’s June 11, a National Daily in National language “Dinamina” has published another  interesting story. From July 1st the government will be conducting an island wide survey to identify persons addicted to tobacco and alcohol through centers established in all parts of the country in view  of helping them to get out of the addiction. This again  means that tobacco control by legislation and litigation will be a closed chapter in Sri Lanka.

Some More news that shows the government’s disinterest in effective tobacco control by law.

1.  Monday 28th May –The Island front page lead story. National drug Policy still a broken Promise- Although the Health Minister Maithriipla Sirisena made a statement on May 15th that the draft bill on National Policy would be ready within one week to submit it to the Cabinet and then to the Parliament for final approval ,nearly two weeks have passed and the Health Minister has yet to receive the draft bill from the legal draftsman’s department. When contacted  chief legal draftsman Mr K.Samarasingha said that her department had not received the draft bill of the National Drug Policy. Submitted to the Department by a special committee appointed by the Health Minister.”

2.  Friday 8th June  -Front page title of the lead story- “Supreme Court  ordered Health Minister, Secretary:
Formulate Drug Policy without delay – The Supreme Court on June 6, 2012 directed Minister of Health and the Secretary to the Ministry to formulate without delay, the National Policy on drug/devices and to take necessary steps to enact the relevant laws. The People’s Movement for Patients’ Rights had complained to the Court that The Health Minister had delayed the tabling of the relevant  Bill in Parliament. The Petition had said that Sri Lanka could save billions of rupees currently spent on the Health sector by using generic drugs. The petitioner had said that the delay on the part of the Minister was arbitrary and wanted  the Court to direct the State to formulate the policy and table the bill in Parliament, without delay. 
The Petition had been filed on June, 29th 2009.  Several dates were given since July 30, 2009, to finalize the draft pertaining to the regulations in respect of medical drugs, cosmetic nutritional foods etc. The Petition was supported by Krishmel Wanasuriya  . The Bench comprised Justice K. Sripavan, Justice S. I. Imam and justice Priyasad Dep. The Deputy Solicitor General, Sanjaya Rajaratnam, appeared for the State. The case will be mentioned again on July 26th 2012.   

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