Regulating tobacco prices, a welcome step – NDDCB Chairman | Sunday Observer
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Regulating tobacco prices, a welcome step – NDDCB Chairman

14 November, 2021

Following the recent announcement at a news briefing by National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Chairman, Dr. Samadhi Rajapaksa that the price of cigarettes is to be increased after the next Budget for 2022, as a result of the price formula for cigarettes prepared by the Authority, the Sunday Observer spoke to Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Ratmalana and the Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo who is also the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Dr Ravindra Fernando for his views.

Asked whether the price formula which according to the NATA Chairman is the first of its kind being put forward in a bid to discourage smoking was a step forward in the history of regulating and thereby halting the persistent smoking habit in Sri Lanka, he said he answered affirmatively and said it will pave the way for healthy future citizens of Lanka.

When asked whether the increase in the price of a cigarette by Rs. 5 and further increase by Rs 20 in another five years as prepared under the new price formula which has been handed over the Health Minister to be presented to the Cabinet, was sufficient deterrent especially to chained smokers, he said, “It is estimated that about 22 percent Sri Lankans are smokers. Even though fewer men smoke on average in Sri Lanka than on average in high Human Development Index (HDI) countries, there are still more than 1600,000 men who smoke cigarettes each day, making it an ongoing and dire public health threat.”

Asked about the number of fatalities from smoking tobacco and tobacco related products, he said, “Estimated annual mortality from tobacco-related illness is about 20, 000 deaths. That is some 60 people die per day due to tobacco use. Cigarette is the only product, which kills one out of two consumers”, he said.

Citing global figures, he said that tobacco is responsible for more than 15 percent of deaths among men and seven percent of deaths among women. He said that annually more than six million people around the world are estimated to die due to tobacco related illness, from direct use of the product, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) reports. An additional 600,000 are estimated to die from illness due to second hand smoking.

On the rise of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and a recent statement by Health Ministry officials that NCDs have become the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Sri Lanka, he said that tobacco use was now a recognised causal factor contributing to the spike in NCDs among Sri Lankans.

“Sri Lankans spend around Rs. 200 million on cigarettes per day. This is the amount of money, which could have been utilised for people and community development,” he said. He said, “Almost 100 percent of the tobacco used for cigarette manufacturing in Sri Lanka is cultivated in the country, which accounted for some 3000 tons of tobacco. Ceylon Tobacco Company also exports its cigarettes, which contributes one percent to its overall annual revenue,” he added. A standard cigarette in Sri Lanka today is Rs. 65 with a 20-pack costing Rs. 1,300, he said.

Asked if he could offer solutions to reduce tobacco use, he said, “The World Health Organization recommends strategies including tobacco tax increases, distributing information about the health risks of smoking, restrictions on smoking in public places and workplaces, and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”