Wellawaya – A Tobacco Free City

From TobaccoUnmasked

This post is based on the presentation done by Dr. SH Piyasumana at the Symposium on Grass Root Level Actions to Control Tobacco / Alcohol and to Counter Industry Interference, held in Colombo on 19th September 2017.[1]


Wellawaya is a rural area in Moneragala District, Uva Province, with a population of 60,060 distributed in an area of 577 km² in size.[2] Smoking was a major factor affecting people’s health in the area, leading to non-communicable diseases, poverty, family problems and undernutrition. Campaigns led by community targeting establishment of a 'tobacco-free city' were initiated in order to improve the health and wellbeing of the people in the area.[3]

Image 1: The protests and demonstrations organized in Wellawaya against the tobacco company[4]

The Intervention

A community group called “Wellawaya api” ("We, the people of Wellawaya") was formed and discussions were held with stakeholders in the area: community leaders, religious leaders, local politicians of both governing and opposition parties and government officials. The initial step was to discuss tobacco related facts in depth with people. A survey was conducted in the business area of the city to assess the state of cigarette sales and use in the area. Collective community actions such as group discussions at community settings including schools, informal campaigns in public transport vehicles and community gatherings, public demonstrations, poster campaigns and protests against industrial influence were implemented as activities (Image 1). A collective decision of cessation of selling cigarettes in the city business area was made with effect from 17th January 2013. As a result, around 96% of the sellers stopped selling cigarettes (Image 2).[3][5][6][7]

Image 2: A national newspaper Daily Mirror reporting the intervention[7]

Tobacco Industry interference

When the vendors quit selling cigarettes, tobacco industry (i.e. the Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) and its affiliates) interference started to materialise in many ways, namely: [1]

  • The area distributor of CTC starting a temporary retail shop to sell cigarettes. A toy shop was started next to the temporary retail shop, exposing children to cigarettes otherwise not readily available in the area.
  • Trying to intimidate the campaigners with anonymous telephone calls which were threatening in nature.
  • Destroying banners and advertising hoardings put up by the campaigners.
  • Groups of tourists visiting restaurants and cafes and leaving without buying the food they ordered stating unavailability of cigarettes as the reason to leave
  • Misleading the vendors by spreading rumors that other shops have restarted selling cigarettes
  • Offering to loan stocks of cigarettes to the shops to motivate them to restart selling cigarettes
  • Making false complaints about the officers involved in the campaign to government authorities.

Follow up

By April 2018 the Wellawaya city area still remains largely a non-cigarette-selling area. This initiative rippled to other areas and CTC acknowledged their existence in the Annual Report 2017, referring to them as 'Stop sale' projects.[8]

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:

External Resources

Other important links:

The local language translations



  1. 1.0 1.1 SH Piyasumana, EKPM Priyadharshana. Interference and Strategies of Tobacco Industry Experienced by a Community Based Tobacco Prevention Programme and the Response of the Community, In: Symposium on Grass Root Level Actions to Control Alcohol and Tobacco, Colombo, 9 September 2017, Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) Sri Lanka, accessed April 2018
  2. Department of CensusandStatistics.Census of Population and Housing 2012 – Final Report, 2013, accessed December 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 SH Piyasumana, EKPM Epa, MKS Priyadarshanie, KMN Perera, GND Guruge. Wellawaya - A community led tobacco free city, Presentation, In: Research Symposium on Combating Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs in National Development, 26 March 2015, Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), Sri Lanka, accessed January 2018
  4. SH Piyasumana. Personal communications
  5. Daily Mirror. Wellawaya to take lead in fight against tobacco, 31May 2013
  6. Sri Lanka Mirror Wellawaya traders decide not to sell cigarettes, 18 January 2013, accessed January 2018
  7. 7.0 7.1 C Wijesinghe. ‘Wellawaye Api’ Initiates Move with ‘No Tobacco Policy’, Daily Mirror, 19 June 2014
  8. Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC. Annual Report 2017, 2018, Colombo: Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC