Mahakumbukkadawala Cigarette Free Villages

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This post is based on the presentation done by Mr. HML Asoka at the Symposium on Grass Root Level Actions to Control Tobacco / Alcohol and to Counter Industry Interference, held in Colombo on 19th September 2017 and a follow-up interview conducted by the TU team.[1]


Mahakumbukkadawala is a rural area situated in Puttalam District, of North Western Province, Sri Lanka with a population of 16,905.[2]. The major sources of income in the area are farming, animal husbandry and informal labour. According to a survey conducted by HML Asoka, the annual expenditure on cigarettes by the community averaged around LKR 6.7 Million.[1]

Grass Root Level Action to Control Tobacco

An advocacy program was conducted in Mahakumbukkadawala targeting the shop owners who used to sell tobacco products in their shops. The main aim of the program was to minimize the availability of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the area. These actions were led by HML Asoka, the presenter, who is also the Public Health Inspector (PHI) of the area.[1]

Image 1: Deshaya newspaper reporting “Mahakumbukkadawala” becoming a cigarettes free village[3]

The Intervention

A series of discussions, led by a group of community advocates, were conducted with shop owners. Majority showed their willingness to support the intervention and stop selling cigarettes. Vendors formed an action group to act on this, making it a community led tobacco control programme. After the discussions the members of the vendors’ trade union decided to stop buying tobacco related products for their shops and clear the already available tobacco products by a particular date. As a result, Mahakumbukkadawala became a tobacco free area. General public organised events to appreciate the support given by the members of the trade union, and presented them with certificates of appreciation. It was reported that villagers were able to spend money saved from not buying cigarettes, in their children’s education. The intervention received positive media coverage (Image 1) and won a Presidential award of appreciation in 2016 (Image 2).[1]

Image 2: HML Asoka receiving the award of appreciation from the President of Sri Lanka in 2016[4]

Industry Interference

Following activities were reported in the abstract and the interview with the PHI Asoka as attempts to disrupt the intervention process:[1][5]

  • posting written death threats on the gate of the PHI’s office
  • vandalising the name board at PHI’s office
  • opening unlicensed cigarette sales outlets in households
  • Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) sales agents spreading rumours on re-initiation of cigarette sales among vendors

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 HM Lalith Ashoka, B Wijegunarathna, PK Abesingha, RP Abeyrathna, 2017, Mahakumbukkadawala; An area free of cigarettes smoke, In: Symposium on Grass Root level actions to control alcohol and tobacco,19 September, 2017
  2. Department of Census and Statistics. Census of Population and Housing 2012 – Final Report, 2013, accessed December 2017
  3. Deshaya. Sigarette beema navathvu gamak. 18 December 2016
  4. HML Asoka. Photograph of receiving the award. Personal communication
  5. HML Asoka. Interview record. 01 December 2017