Proposed ban on Single Stick Cigarette Sales in Sri Lanka
On the 11th September 2018, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne proposed a new draft policy to the Cabinet of Ministers for their approval on banning the sale of single cigarette sticks.
The Health Minister had indicated in the previous two years that he was going to propose this new policy through repeated public statements on ‘single stick cigarette ban policy’, which were reported in the media since 2016. It was proposed as an amendment to the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act, the national legislation on tobacco and alcohol control in Sri Lanka.
The Importance of a Single Stick Sales Ban
In Sri Lanka majority of smokers buy cigarettes in the loose form.
Global evidence has proved that availability of single cigarettes in the market encourages initiation and sustenance of smoking among youth, improving their affordability and accessibility as retailers are then able to sell single cigarettes to minors. Based on the global evidence, Article 16 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) states “Each Party shall endeavor to prohibit the sale of cigarettes individually or in small packets which increase the affordability of such products to minors.”
Single stick cigarettes make smoking more affordable to the poor, who are unable to purchase them in 20-stick packets. Further, this would make it virtually impossible for the regulating authorities to track the sale afterwards. Majority of the countries have already taken steps to implement Article 16 of the FCTC.
Cabinet Approval not Given
The proposal did not receive Cabinet approval reportedly based on the opposition of four Cabinet members, Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Labour and Trade Unions Ravindra Samaraweera, Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando and Minister of Highways, Higher Education and Investment Promotion Kabir Hashim (Image 1).
Minister of Finances’ Opposition Received a wide Media Coverage
According to subsequent media reports, Minister of Finance’s reasons for objections are stated below:
- ban would lead to a reduction in tax revenue
- He reportedly mentioned that recent tobacco control measures had already resulted in a LKR 18 billion tax revenue loss to the government. Minister of Health reportedly objected stating that the revenue from tobacco tax had risen from LKR 23 Billion in 2017 to LKR 29 Billion in 2018. A later report published in the Daily Mirror quoting the Executive Director of Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) stated that Finance Ministry records do not show any evidence of the alleged LKR 18 billion tax revenue loss.
- ban would increase beedi consumption
- The second argument brought on by the Minister of Finance was that reduced affordability of cigarettes would lead to an increase in beedi consumption. Media further reported that the Minister of Health objected to the Minister of Finances’ statement saying it is highly unlikely that those addicted to the taste of cigarettes would take to smoking beedi.
The History of Objections to the ban
An article published in the Daily FT, a national newspaper, in April 2018, with regard to the ban, voiced similar views to the objections raised by the Minister of Finance. Additionally, it also claimed that the ban would increase smoking because consumers who buy loose cigarettes would now be forced to buy packets and would therefore smoke more. This, the article claimed, would also harm smaller retail shops, and thereby the economy of the country.
An unidentified ‘stakeholder’ “involved in the tobacco industry” in a Daily Mirror article written by one Yohan Perera in March 2017 claimed that a ban on sale of single stick cigarettes is “a move to curb the income tax” due from the multinational companies.
Earlier in 2017, media reporting a meeting between the Tobacco Retailers’ Association (TRA) and the Minister of Finance Samaraweera, stated that the TRA had requested the minister not to impose the ban as it would affect their business. TRA is a front group of Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), the British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary that has monopoly in cigarette manufacturing and sales in Sri Lanka. (Please see the page Tobacco Retailers’ Association Opposing Tobacco Regulations in 2017 for more details).
Tobacco Unmasked Resources
Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:
- National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act
- FCTC Article 16: Sales to and by Minors
- Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
- Tobacco Retailers’ Association Opposing Tobacco Regulations in 2017
- Mangala Samaraweera
- Ravindra Samaraweera
- Harin Fernando
- P Sumanasekara. Taxation and tobacco industry in Sri Lanka, Daily Mirror, 19 September 2018, accessed November 2018
- Daily MirrorSale of loose fags will be banned: Rajitha 09 March 2017, accessed October 2018
- M. Peiris. Ban sale of single cigarettes - Government Medical Officers Association, Asian Tribune, 24 November 2016, accessed October 2018
- S D Peiris Ban of single stick cigarettes Tobacco Induced Diseases, 1 March 2018, accessed November 2018
- World Health Organisation. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, accessed November 2018
- M Peiris. A win-win game for the tobacco industry, Daily Mirror, 12 April 2016, accessed November 2018
- D Liyanage. No ban on single stick cigarette ban, Daily Mirror, 17 September 2017, accessed November 2018
- Sunday Times. Rajitha’s loose cigarettes go up in smoke, 16 September 2016, accessed November 2018
- A K Agalakada. Fall in sale of Fags affects Tax revenues, Micro Citizen, 12 September 2018, accessed November 2018
- Y Perera. Will ban on single stick sales discourage smoking?, Daily Mirror, 27 March 2017, accessed November 2018
- Mirror Business. Tobacco retailers meet FinMin over industry concerns, 30 May 2017, accessed November 2018