People have died from tobacco-related diseases since the opening of the first FCTC working group on 28 October 1999.
After years of pressure from tobacco control advocates, and a series of court challenges since 2012, cigarette packages sold in Sri Lanka will have to carry graphic health warnings (GHWs) from 1 January 2015.
The final decision – that 60 percent of the back and front surfaces of all packages must be covered by GHWs – was made in a Supreme Court ruling on 11 July.
Sri Lanka’s Government announced in 2013 that it would mandate GHWs covering 80 percent of cigarette packs, which would have been the largest in the world. However, that decision was challenged by the Ceylon Tobacco Company, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco. Various appeals resulted in the 11 July ruling.
“I have mixed feelings,” says Dr Olcott Gunasekera, who has been urging the government to adopt GHWs since 2002.
“When Nepal and Thailand were successful to get Court rulings for 75 percent and 85 percent GHW coverage in the packs it was disheartening or disappointing that in Sri Lanka we had to lower it to 60 percent from 80 percent,” added Olcott, who is President of the Sri Lanka National Federation on Smoking or Health.
In June, Thailand won a court battle with the industry over its GHWs, while Nepal has implemented warnings covering 75 percent of packages since earlier this year.
Better than no GHWs
According to Olcott, “to have GHWs is better than not having GHWs at all”.
After a partial victory only after such a long battle, Olcott says he has not given up the fight:
“I have already informed the Minister [of Health] of world trends towards plain packaging and a ‘tobacco endgame’. Using the birth of GHWs in Sri Lanka to get a policy direction for a tobacco endgame strategy is my current dream. The day will come.”