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Sunday, 20 November 2011

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Law strengthened to curb smoking in public places

The effort to circumvent the law by manufacturers of beedi producers has been thwarted following the decision of the Court of Appeal recently. Although white Beedi manufacturers argued that their product does not fall within the ambit of law under the Tobacco Tax Act No 8 of 1999 and Tobacco Tax (Amendment) Act No 9 of 2004, Courts have held that all Beedi production was governed by law.

At a discussion held recently on the developments of law relating to the tobacco industry, Attorney-at-Law Kalinga Indatissa disclosed that the knowledge on law relating to the Tobacco Act and its amendments have not been thoroughly understood by the public as well as the media that created problems.

Referring to laws that are currently in operation he said they were designed by the British during their reign.

Britishers

“The thinking behind the laws were the thinking of the Britishers then. But times and systems have changed and the laws need to be amended to suit the present day society.”

Attorney Indatissa, further said that the Tobacco industry was regulated until 2007 by statutes such as the Excise Ordinance, Tobacco Tax Act of 1999, and the Tobacco Tax Amendment Act of 2004.

A problem arose in later years with regard to the sale of tobacco products to young people below a certain age group. “Although this wasn’t a problem in Sri Lanka, it was a problem in other parts of the world.

The second problem was smoking in public places.

The above matters ultimately led to the foundation of the Tobacco Tax Act No 8 of 1999 and Tobacco Tax (amendment) Act No 9 of 2004.” he said. In early 2000 Sri Lanka became the first country in South East Asia to become a signatory and ratify WHO convention on the use of tobacco.

Excise Ordinance

He said the Excise Ordinance, the Tobacco Tax Act No 8 of 1999 and the Tobacco Tax (Amendment) Act No 9 of 2004 collectively impose restrictions on the tobacco and the alcohol industry.

For instance cigarettes, cigars, beedi, and pipe tobacco have been regulated by the passing of amendments.

The intention of the legislature was to have control over them.

However, where beedi was concerned it was defined under the Tobacco Tax Act No 8 of 1999. Beedi has been defined as tobacco specially grown for the manufacture of beedi whether cut, crushed, broken or powdered (1) rolled in a leaf of the tropical tree botanically known as Diospyros melanoxylon or Diospyros abinum of the family of Ebenaneae or the family of Ebenneae or any of its substitutes and (2) intended for smoking. The wrapper too has to be from a tobacco leaf in terms of the definition.

However, controversy arose when the white beedi manufacturers took up the position that their product did not fall under the Tobacco Tax No 8 of 1999 and Tobacco Tax (Amendment) Act No 9 of 2004.

To circumvent the law, the white beedi manufacturers wrapped up their beedi with paper instead of tobacco leaf and claimed immunity in court that unlike cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco and beedi, their product could not be regulated as they do not fall within the ambit of beedi as defined in the Tobacco Tax No 8 of 1999.

According to Attorney, Kalinga Indatissa their argument was found erroneous by a recent Court of Appeal judgement. The Court held that products not defined as cigarettes, cigars, beedi, or pipe tobacco under the Tobacco Tax No 8 of 1999, were also considered as cigarettes. Initially the Court of Appeal issued a stay order restraining the police from taking action against the white beedi manufacturers or investigating them.

At this juncture the Udawatte Nanda Thera and Attorney-at-Law Rakitha Abeygunawardena intervened and challenged the position in the Court of Appeal. Consequently the Court of Appeal removed the stay order.

Attorney-at-Law Indatissa said although the Tobacco Company officials were invited to air their views at the round table discussion they were not present on the occasion.

“They could have also made a contribution on this subject. Our position on this subject was a simple one.

Institutions

We want to tell the people and institutions the law would apply equally.”

He said as lobbyists they have no objections whatsoever to laws promulgated in respect of tobacco and alcohol industry, drafted in consultation with producers. “In any civilised society that form of control and restriction was necessary,” he said. Referring to white beedi he said that it was also a tobacco product.

The white beedi after all was not used for any other purpose other than smoking. “We urge authorities concerned to enforce the law.”

Udawatte Nanda Thera said almost 2300 years ago the majority of the people in the country were Sinhala Buddhists up to 1505. Following successive foreign invasions the country was ruled according to their wishes.

Ancestors

“Although our ancestors were not addicted to liquor they may have consumed it in accordance with their health status. However people became addicted to liquor after foreign conquest.” He said prior to the enforcement of the Tobacco Tax Act, people smoked in public places, such as in offices, in buses, in hotels without paying attention to their health.

Some considered smoking and drinking as a symbol of status. “There have been instances when fathers smoked cigarettes while carrying children in their arms without thinking of the health hazards. There were people who smoked in public places such as hotels without considering the ill effects of smoking on women and children.

“Smoking in public places and the sale of cigarettes to under-aged persons have been reduced drastically following the enactment of the Tobacco Tax Act and its amendments.”

The thera pointed out that some parents send children to fetch cigarettes from the boutique. When that happens children become curious and want to smoke on the sly. However following the enactments, vendors too stopped selling cigarettes to minors.

Attorney-at-Law Rasika Abeygunewardena referring to the manufacture of white beedi said there was standardisation procedure involved unlike in the manufacture of cigarettes.

Law enforcement authorities can now enforce the law following the decision of the Court of Appeal.

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