Ceylon Tobacco Legally Challenging Pictorial Health Warnings in Cigarette Packs

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A pictorial health warning used in Sri Lanka[1]

Background

In 2012, then Minister of Health of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, issued a special gazette notification to mandate pictorial health warnings covering 80 per cent of the front and back of the cigarette packs.[2][3] This was in accordance with FCTC Article 11: Packaging and Labeling of Tobacco Products of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).[4]

Industry Response

Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), the only cigarette manufacturer in Sri Lanka, went to courts requesting a repeal of the order given by the Minister of Health. This legal challenge was upgraded through several levels of the judiciary and ultimately reached the Supreme Court. The case was heard at the Supreme Court in front of a panel of three judges, namely then Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, Justice Rohini Marasinghe and Justice Sisira J. De Abrew.[5]

Industry Tactic: Change of counsel

A news website, Colombo Telegraph, alleged that the then Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was behind the change of counsel by CTC in 2013. Colombo Telegraph revealed that with the help of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, certain CTC officials met then Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. Allegedly Chief Justice had told them “to change the Counsel (Romesh De Silva, PC) and retain one of the more regime friendly lawyers.”[6]

Subsequently CTC replaced Romesh De Silva with Faisz Musthapha. Faisz Musthapha is the father of Faiszer Musthapha, who was the then Deputy Minister of Technology and Research.[7]

Outcome

The court order was finally given in July 2014, which forced to reduce the size of the warning to 60% and further delayed the implementation of the warnings until January 2015 (i.e. around two and half years since the special gazette order was issued).[8]

TobaccoUnmasked Resources

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Notes

  1. FCTC Secretariat website. Sri Lanka adopts huge picture warnings, undated, accessed July 2017
  2. Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary). Tobacco Products (Labelling and Packaging) Regulations, No. 01 of 2012, 08 August 2012, accessed March 2017
  3. M Peiris. Controversy over pictorial health warnings covering the front and back of the tobacco packs, Asian Tribune, 26 March 2013, accessed March 2017
  4. FCTC Secretariat Website. [http://www.who.int/fctc/treaty_instruments/article_11/en/ Guidelines for implementation of Article 11 - Packaging and labeling of tobacco products, 2008, accessed March 2017
  5. Colombo Page, Ceylon Tobacco not to implement pictorial warnings until Supreme Court ruling on July 11, 01 July 2014, accessed April 2017
  6. T Gunasekara CJ Mohan Peiris and CTC legal challenge against pictorial warnings, Colombo Telegraph, 28 August 2014, accessed March 2017
  7. The Island. Father and son both President’s counsel, 15 November 2012, accessed April 2017
  8. AB Gilmore, G Fooks, J Drope, SA Bialous, RR Jackson. Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low and middle income countries. Lancet, 2015;385(9972):1029-1043, accessed March 2017