29 Apr 2009
Updated 26/6/2016 – Olcott Gunasekera is no longer president of the Sri Lanka National Federation of Smoking and Health.
Sri Lanka was the first country in Asia, and the fourth in the world to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
One of the organisations working hard on the FCTC (and FCA member) in the country is the Sri Lanka National Federation of Smoking and Health (SLNFSH), based in Colombo.
Federation president Olcott Gunasekera said that since the SLNFSH was established in 1977 it has been tirelessly working to control Sri Lanka’s tobacco epidemic, even before tobacco was declared the cause of some non communicable diseases.
“At the initial stages of this work, the greatest challenge was the tobacco industry’s overt and covert actions,” he said. “There was also inadequate public awareness about the dangers of tobacco use; lack of finances to carry out our work; and political and bureaucratic commitment by word that was not reflected adequately by deed.”
However, the federation has seen its fair share of tobacco control successes. Besides the country’s FCTC ratification other successes are:
• After an eight year gestation period tobacco control law was legislated.
• The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) was established, which later received a Bloomberg award.
• The Sri Lanka Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations against Drug Abuse formed the Civil Society National Surveillance committee to monitor NATA’s implementation.
The federation also sponsored the first litigation by a cancer patient against the tobacco industry and has been involved with many other projects such as the WHO South East Asia Regional Office’s preparation of a compliant legislative enactment for tobacco control, and the promotion of second-hand smoke-free environments in Sri Lanka.
Despite the successes, Olcott said there was still a lot of work to do because every year 22,000 premature deaths occurred due to tobacco use.
“In many instances it is the bread-winner who dies and their families are economically affected as a consequence. Loss of productivity affects the country’s economy,” he said.
“Sri Lanka’s experiences show that mere ratification of the FCTC and passing of legislation is not enough. There has to be constant vigilance by civil society as regards implementation. There is also a price to pay when government action is monitored and inadequacies shown.”