Exposing rumours spread by the tobacco industry-Media Discussion

Sri Lankan government took measures last year to increase the unit price of a cigarette, by increasing the taxes levied upon them. There seems to be an increase in attempts of the cigarette industry in popularizing certain incorrect claims and rumours via media channels, with regard to the aforementioned tax hike. In order to reveal incorrect claims and rumours media discussion on ” Tobacco industry and its arguments “was  successfully held on 28th April 2017 at Department of Government Information No.163,Kirulapone Avenue, Polhengoda, Colombo 05 . This was organized by The Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (UCFM) in collaboration with Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC).

The cigarette taxes in Sri Lanka were increased in the last year in order to reduce the cigarette consumption and also to increase the government income. But it was revealed at the media brief that, every time as and when the taxes imposed on cigarettes get increased, both the income of the government as well as the profits of the tobacco company has also gone up. And it was mentioned in the media conference that though there was slight decrease in tobacco sales after the increase of the taxes, it has to be further increased to gain a better control.

Prof. Jennifer Perera, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, explained about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty, an agreement under international law, adopted in May 2003.This agreement is one of the most quickly authenticated treaties in the United Nations history, highlighting its importance in protecting the present and future generations from the destructive health, social and economic consequences due to the tobacco burden. Prof. Jennifer Perera also highlighted the importance of article 5.3, perhaps the most important treaty in FCTC, which requires Parties to protect their public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, The Founder Director of CCT explained about the new institution by the name of Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) which has been established at the UCFM. CCT is a newly established Centre, to monitor activities of the tobacco industry in Sri Lanka and the region.

Dr. Nishan De Mel, The Director, Verite Research pointed out that the taxes presently imposed on cigarettes are only a 74% of its value. Cigarette companies are in an attempt to popularise the view that increased cigarette prices have lead the way to higher consumption of ‘beedi’. But by analyzing the data for last 20 years it can be proven that there was no such issue. This long standing argument has been further fuelled with the recent price hikes. However, the inaccuracy of these statements can be proven by the fact that the records of the excise department show no significant increase in imports of the ‘thendu’ leaf used in manufacture of beedi’s . It was also exposed by Dr. Mel that the Ministry of Finance, the policy makers and also that of the media are misinformed and misguided simply with the half extraction of the chart, illustrated to demonstrate in the fact that there is an increase on the importation of “Thendu    leaves” used for Beedi manufacturing. But it was revealed that actually the import of the “Thendu leaves” has decreased for the last 3 years.

Another fact which was revealed at the media conference was the false media reports about the recent tax hikes which were published without any reliable researches or surveys. Mr. Pubudu Sumanasekara, The Executive Director, ADIC also presented some media reports as examples from the recent newspapers.

Dr. Sajeewa Ranaweera from Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) pointed out that the tobacco sales of the developing countries have gone down. So the international tobacco industries target the countries like ours to make money.

More than 30 members from different Media groups attended the media discussion. The facts which were discussed at the conference were reported by various mass and press media at the same day and almost all the media had mentioned about the newly established CCT at UCFM.

Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, Director, CCT

Prof. Jennifer Perera, Dean, UCFM

Presenting some media reports from the recent newspapers ….

Mr. Pubudu Sumanasekara, the Executive Director, ADIC

Dr. Sajeewa Ranaweera from Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA)

Dr. Nishan De Mel, the Director, Verite Research

Participants from the different media groups…..