Implementing Pictorial Health Warnings on Cigarette Packs: Bribery Allegations

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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.[1] This was in accordance with Article 11 (Packaging and labeling of tobacco products) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).[2]

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.[3] 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).[4] (Also see Ceylon Tobacco Legally Challenging Pictorial Health Warnings in Cigarette Packs). However, in 2015, at the initiation of President Sirisena’s government, a cabinet bill was approved by the parliament to amend the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act, enabling implementation of 80% PHWs as originally intended.[5][6]

Bribery Allegations

During the process, bribery allegations were made against the tobacco industry in several occasions.

In 2013

In a felicitation ceremony at Polonnaruwa Royal College for the then Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena, Minister stated that tobacco industry offered him money to prevent him publishing the Gazette on PHWs. According to him, the amount offered was “adequate to purchase properties for 15 generations of his family in one of world’s “happiest countries”. He declared he rejected the offer because he “values his country and the well-being of the people”. Further, he mentioned that the industry repeatedly tried to approach him when he “was in parliament, at home and in office”.[7]

In 2015

Rajitha Senaratne, the Minister of Health and the Cabinet Spokesperson, reportedly made two bribery allegations in 2015 over the same issue;[8]

  • ”tobacco industry offered Rs. 1 billion to the previous government to stall action to print pictorial health warnings on 80 percent of the display areas of cigarette packets"
  • ”tobacco companies had paid the Rajapaksha regime Rs. 3 billion in an attempt to downsize the pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets, legal action would be instituted".
Image 1: Image of President Maithripala Sirisena and the Minister of Health Rajitha Senaratne, in the ceremony to felicitate the Minister for receiving the World No Tobacco Day (2015) Award.[9]

Industry Response

CTC responded by press releases in 2013 and 2015 and denied the allegations, even though CTC was not directly mentioned in them. All allegations were against the ‘tobacco industry’ without mentioning of any company or individual.[8][10][11][12]

CTC is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT), which is facing bribery allegations in Africa.[13][14]

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:

Notes

  1. M Peiris. Controversy over pictorial health warnings covering the front and back of the tobacco packs, Asian Tribune, 26 March 2013, accessed March 2017
  2. FCTC Secretariat Website. Guidelines for implementation of Article 11 - Packaging and labeling of tobacco products, 2008, accessed March 2017
  3. Colombo Page, Ceylon Tobacco not to implement pictorial warnings until Supreme Court ruling on July 11, 01 July 2014, accessed April 2017
  4. 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
  5. NATIONAL AUTHORITY ON TOBACCO AND ALCOHOL (AMENDMENT) ACT, No. 3 OF 2015, 3 March 2015, accessed May 2017
  6. FCTC Implementation Database. Sri Lanka: Health warnings now cover 80% of pack surfaces, Undated, accessed May 2017
  7. M.Peiris, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena blasts tobacco industry for attempting to bribe, Asian Tribune, 2013:12(1681), accessed November 2016
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Island, CTC responds to bribery allegations: Pictorial health warnings on Cigarette packs, 2015, accessed November 2016
  9. The official website of the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Through anti-tobacco & drugs policies, a healthy nation will be built – President, 2017, accessed May 2017
  10. Lanka Business Online, Sri Lanka BAT unit denies bribery allegations, 2013, accessed November, 2016
  11. Daily FT. Maithripala’s outburst shocks Sri Lanka Inc, CTC denies, 26 September 2013, accessed May 2017
  12. Lanka Business Online. Sri Lanka BAT unit denies bribery allegations, 9 October 2013, accessed May 2017
  13. The Guardian. British American Tobacco faces call for bribery allegations inquiry, 6 February 2016, accessed May 2017
  14. The Guardian. British American Tobacco accused of bribing government officials, 30 November 2015, accessed May 2017