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Sri Lanka: Warning Labels on Cigarette Packages

(Jan. 5, 2015) In accordance with a July 11, 2014, Supreme Court order that came into effect on January 1, 2015, the leading tobacco manufacturer in Sri Lanka now must print health warnings on packs of cigarettes. (Sri Lanka to Have Graphic Package Warnings – Finally!, Framework Convention Alliance website (July 16, 2014).) The Ceylon Tobacco Company will be required to include pictures illustrating the dangers of tobacco on 60% of the area of the front and back panels of its cigarette packages. (Sri Lanka Starts Printing Warning on Cigarette Packs, COLOMBO PAGE (Jan. 2, 2015).)

There are seven graphic warnings, to be used for six months at a time, that have been approved; the first shows a patient with heart disease in intensive care at a hospital. The picture is captioned in three languages, stating “smoking causes heart disease.” (Id.) Packages may not be produced without the warnings as of January 1, 2015; traders and distributors of cigarettes have until January 31 to sell any remaining packages without the warnings. As of February 1, action can be taken against anyone selling the product without the warning messages. (Id.)

The Supreme Court ruling came after many years of pressure from anti-smoking activists and several court cases, which were initiated in 2012. (Sri Lanka to Have Graphic Package Warnings – Finally!, supra.) Activists are concerned, however, that these messages on packs of cigarettes will not be seen by all Sri Lankan smokers, many of whom do not purchase whole packages, buying their cigarettes individually. (Sri Lanka Starts Printing Warning on Cigarette Packs, supra.)

In addition, Dr. Olcott Gunasekera, the President of the Sri Lanka National Federation on Smoking and Health who has been lobbying the government to adopt warning requirement since 2002, has expressed disappointment that the warnings are only mandated to cover 60% of the packages, rather than the 80% originally envisioned. He stated that he has “mixed feelings” about the ruling, adding “[w]hen Nepal and Thailand were successful to get Court rulings for 75 percent and 85 percent GHW [graphic health warning] coverage in the packs it was disheartening or disappointing that in Sri Lanka we had to lower it to 60 percent.” (Sri Lanka to Have Graphic Package Warnings – Finally!, supra.)

Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry spends 27% of its funds each year on treating patients with smoking-related diseases; 60 to 65 people die each day from illnesses caused by tobacco. (Sri Lanka Starts Printing Warning on Cigarette Packs, supra.)