Ceylon Tobacco Sponsored News Articles against Tobacco Tax – Minister of Health

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Background

The highest one time increase of the cigarette price in Sri Lanka was recorded in the 4th Quarter of 2016. It was due to an increase of Excise Tax in October and introduction of 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) in November.[1] Tobacco industry responded with different arguments against the tax increase. (Also see Exposing ‘Alternative Facts’ on Tobacco Taxation). Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), the company which has a monopoly of cigarette manufacturing and sales in Sri Lanka, is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT). As of 2017, BAT owned 84% of shares of CTC, rest of which is owned by private and corporate investors.[2]

Health Minister’s Allegation on Sponsored Media Articles

In the state media briefing held on 01st November 2017, Minister of Health and the Media Spokesperson for the Cabinet of Ministers, Rajitha Senaratne accused the tobacco company for sponsoring media articles via TriAd Lanka Ltd., an advertisement agency in Sri Lanka. According to the Minister, LKR 150,000 was offered to print and online newspapers to publish a news article criticising the government’s move to raise tobacco tax (Image 1). The argument made in the news article (against the tax increase) was that it is only a method of increasing government revenue. An excerpt from the Minister’s statement on the issue (translated) follows:[3]

Few days back suddenly an article appeared stating Increase of tobacco tax a hoax? with headlines and images in Sri Lanka Mirror. What they say is that increased the government revenue. So how great it is if the government get a revenue from the tax I’ve imposed. Government revenue increased. What they have said in the whole article is that we have done a hoax to increase the government revenue. There is a single sentence stating cigarette sticks reduced by one Billion. It is stated in a single sentence. One can miss that sentence when it is read. Because they can’t state a bogus report they had stated it. I investigated it. The exact article with the exact lay out was in another website. Then I spoke to the person who runs those websites. I know him, so I jokingly asked “How much did the tobacco company pay you?” His response was I don’t know, this and that… Then I found out. Then I called a newspaper for youth called Apple. I have a friend in it. I asked whether they got an advertisement like that. They said “we got that advertisement. Dilith Jayaweera from TriAd was the person that called us. Tobacco Company has given this to the TriAd to publish it. It is not an advertisement but a news article. If this news article is published we were offered one and half lakhs in Rupees”. Then I called the Lanka News Web. He called me to ask me about something else. Then I asked him “have you received such a news item?” He said, “Yes we received. We were offered one and half lakhs in Rupees.”
Image 1: The news article criticised to be sponsored by the tobacco industry as published in Sri Lanka Mirror[4]


Industry Response

As of 10th November 2017, CTC did not respond publicly to Minister’s allegations on attempted interference. Sri Lanka Mirror responded saying it was a “joke”. Please see Allegations against Sri Lanka Mirror on Publishing Sponsored Articles on Tobacco Tax for details.[3]

TobaccoUnmasked contacted Sunday Apple, Lanka News Web and TriAd Lanka Ltd. for details as none of them publicly responded to the Minister’s statement.

Sarva Amarasekere Director/CEO of TriAd Lanka Ltd. responded to our query stating the allegation made against their company was false.

This post will be updated with the responses of Sunday Apple and Lanka News Web once they arrive.

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:

External Resources

Notes

  1. Daily Mirror. Cigarette price to increase up to Rs. 55, 23 October 2016, accessed March 2017
  2. British American Tobacco. Annual Report 2016, 2017, accessed November 2017)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sri Lanka Mirror. Joke from Rajitha for SLM Anniversary (Video), 01st November 2017, accessed November 2017
  4. Sri Lanka Mirror. දුම්වැටි බද්ද බදු ගැසීමේ ප්‍රෝඩාවක්? (Increase of tobacco tax a hoax?), 28 September 2017, accessed November 2017