May 31, Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena blames the use of tobacco and alcohol for the increasing poverty level and deterioration of the health among the poor people in the country.
The President says more than 500 million rupees was being spent per day in Sri Lanka on tobacco and alcohol and the low income groups are spending 35 percent of their earnings on tobacco and alcohol. As such this is the cause for increase in poverty and the deterioration of the health of the poor.
Addressing a function held under his patronage to mark the World No Tobacco Day today at the BMICH, the President said the government will take clear and direct decisions with respect to the alcohol and tobacco industry and use.
The President said in the past the Government took some direct decisions. One was to ban the cultivation of tobacco in the island by the year 2020. He has already instructed the Agrarian Services and the Agriculture Department to apprise tobacco cultivators on this decision.
Recalling the difficulties he faced as the Minister of Health in the past to enact laws to cover eighty percent of cigarette packs with picture warnings, the President said he had to directly response to the heads of Tobacco Companies at meetings held at Temple Trees in the past.
Dr. Nishan de Mel, Executive Director and Head of Research, at Verité Research addressing the function pointed out that according to statistics the price of a cigarette should be increased considerably.
According to Dr. de Mel, the actual price of a cigarette is 35 rupees when the real price should be 55 rupees. The tax has been reduced by around 67 percent. As such the Government is deprived of a colossal amount of its earnings this year, he pointed out.
Responding to Dr. de Mel, the President said the issue on increasing the price of cigarettes will be immediately discussed at the Cabinet meeting and he would propose to take immediate action in this respect.
Expressing his views, Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said that in the past they staged a war and also toppled a Government to set up a Pharmaceutical Authority and to cover the cigarette pack with pictorial warnings. Even the Supreme Court was approached by the previous regime to reduce the percentage of pictorial warning to 60 from 80 percent. He said the last election was the first poll in which the health issue figured prominently.
At the event, the President awarded prizes to the winners of an island wide competition organized among school children in parallel to the World No Tobacco Day.
State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Secretary to the Ministry of Health Anura Jayawickrema, Director General of Health Services Dr. Palitha Mahipala, Ministers, Parliamentarians, and state officials were present at the occasion.