Protecting the younger generation, aim of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol

By Dhananjani Silva, Nadia Fazlulhaq and Salma Yusuf

How many of us are aware of the health, social, environmental and economic consequences of smoking and alcohol consumption? Despite these issues being a focus of our society for many years, no significant measures had been taken to safeguard the present and future generations from this deadly menace.

However, a Bill has now been passed in Parliament to regulate the ‘production, marketing and consumption of tobacco and alcohol products’. Its objective is to discourage people, especially children, from smoking or consuming alcohol, by limiting their access to these products.

The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol will ensure that smoking and drinking are reduced in the country, Health and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Sunday Times. He noted that nowhere in the world could there be a total prohibition of drinking and smoking.

“The purpose of this Act is to ensure an environment which would be conducive to changing human behaviour, especially of young people,” he said.

According to him, Sri Lanka is the first in Asia and fourth in the world to ratify the World Health Organization’s Initiative on the Framework on Tobacco and Alcohol.

The Minister said that the authority will be multisectoral. Health, justice, education, media, trade, sports, National Dangerous Drug Control Board, excise and police will be represented. Five members will be appointed by him from among persons who have wide experience in the field of medicine and also fields related to tobacco and alcohol products.

Prohibition of the sale of any tobacco or alcohol product to a person under 21 years of age is one of the main features of the Act.

“No person shall sell, offer for sale or permit the sale of any tobacco or alcohol product to any person under 21 years. Nowadays parents send their 12-year-old boy to buy a packet of cigarettes and this should be discouraged,” he said.

Direct or indirect advertisements on such products are also prohibited under the Act, which would come into force immediately. Advertising of alcohol and tobacco products is banned except at the point of sale. Boards and hoardings depicting such products will be dismantled, while sponsorships will also be prohibited.

Since multinational companies are targeting developing countries, consumption of alcohol and tobacco, is rather high when compared to developed countries, Mr. de Silva explained.

The Act also prohibits vending machines and self-service distribution of alcohol and tobacco products. Asked if this Act will encourage people to seek illicit liquor, Minister de Silva said the Police and the Excise Departments would have to deal with that issue.

In addition, smoking in any public area such as bus stands, railway stations, supermarkets, government offices or hospitals is an offence. The owner, proprietor, manager, trustee or occupier of any such building will be held liable.
‘No person shall smoke or allow any person to smoke in any enclosed area to which the public has access,’ states the Act.

The smoking ban will be enforced in places which accommodate a minimum of 30 people. Hotels, restaurants and pubs will have to set up a separate area for smokers thereby discouraging smoking in enclosed areas, The Sunday Times understands.

According to a spokesperson of the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the Director General of Health Services will issue guidelines and directions from time to time on implementation procedures for the Act, while Food and Drug Inspectors, Public Health Inspectors and Police and Excise Officers will be authorised to enforce it. These officers can go to any place and detain offenders at any time.

Explaining that thriving sales of tobacco products are found to be around schools, the spokesperson said the main objective of the authority is to protect children from being lured into these bad habits rather than those who are already addicted.

Citing an example, the spokesperson said when famous celebrities are depicted puffing a cigarette or having a drink it could influence a child to follow suit.

Less health risks

If there is less smoking, the economic load on the government will also reduce. The most expensive drugs and apparatus are required for cancer treatment, one of the primary causes of which is smoking.Dr. Lakshmi Somatunge, Director of Communicable Diseases, Ministry of Health told The Sunday Times . There are eight common forms of cancer, all of which can be due to smoking. Scientifically it has been proven that there is a strong connection between smoking and bladder cancer, she said.

Smoking in public places has an impact on passive smokers especially expectant mothers. When they are exposed to second hand smoke, it could affect the development of the foetus. Half of the child population is also exposed to passive smoking, Dr. Somatunge said.

Passive smoking is also a strong risk factor for asthma. There are two streams of emissions- what the smoker exhales and what is emitted from the burning end of the cigarette.

Nightclubs: Blow hot, blow cold

There was a mixed response to the Act from the nightclubs scattered across the city. A popular nightclub in Colombo asserted that they had such a policy in mind when designing their premises and that the Act will not disturb their arrangements in anyway.

“We already have a non-smoking area for our customers, even though 90% of our customers are smokers. We have smoke vents and air curtains which help to control such emissions,” the manager said.

Another nightclub owner, however, said that in a bid to comply with the Act they are seeking customer inputs and attempting to combine it with management decisions. The Act will cause inconvenience and discomfort to customers and it is likely to affect business, he said.

“Most people would not like to be asked to go to one area to smoke, another to eat and another to dance. So this would undoubtedly affect our business,” he stressed adding however that if all nightclubs adopt such measures, they would be accepted more easily by their clientele.

It will control violence

This type of control is necessary to prevent most social problems, domestic violence and other forms of violence such as rape and murder, said Dr. H. M. D. R. Herath, a sociologist of the Peradeniya University.

“If you visit the Maharagama Cancer Hospital, most of the patients there are heavy smokers. What will happen to the future generation of our country if this trend continues?” he questioned with concern.

Dr. Herath said that in Sri Lanka liquor shops are open from morning till night and people consume liquor even during working hours, unlike in other countries.

There should also be some kind of mechanism to control other local beverages, which are harmful to people, he added.


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