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Sri Lanka


WHO Global Meeting to Accelerate on NCD and Mental Health Address by Hon. Minister of Health Sri Lanka- Mrs. Pavithra Wanniarachchi - Oman, Muscat 2019-12-16

Chair, Excellencies,Delegates,


I am very happy to be able to attend this important event on a subject of relevance to all of us today. I am recently appointed as the Minister of Health for Sri Lanka and    the government of Sri Lanka acknowledges that the prevention and control of Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is a priority issue in our national health agenda and multisectoral collaboration is essential for NCD prevention and control. We are fully committed to take necessary action to control the epidemic. But I acknowledge that this is one of the most difficult tasks as prevention and control of NCDs are related to modification of life style. Also, control of NCDs is a responsibility of every citizen, and many government ministries and private institutions. Due this challenge our ministry established the National NCD Council to coordinate and monitor the progress of National Multisectoral Action Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs 2016-2020. As a chairperson of NCD council, I will regularly monitor the progress of NCD prevention and control programmes of Sri Lanka.


The government of Sri Lanka considers tobacco and alcohol use as a major health issue and a serious impediment to development. The progress made in Tobacco and Alcohol control in Sri Lanka demonstrates that a lead agency working closely with the Ministry of Health, can galvanize multisectoral action by actively seeking opportunities to collaborate with and influence sectors outside health.  Sri Lanka established the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) as an independent government agency, to address the harm from tobacco and alcohol. This multisectoral agency was established through a unique piece of legislation to cover all aspects of both tobacco and alcohol.


This is a multisectoral government agency that operates through a Board which comprises representatives from health, youth, education, mass media, police, justice, excise, customs, trade sector agencies of the government as well as independent members with expertise in the subject area. I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate the role played by civil society organizations in our country to take our messages to the grassroot level.


We in Sri Lanka have accepted many of the recommendations of the FCTC from the time we ratified it in 2005. Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the South-East Asia region to sign the FCTC. In February 2016, Sri Lanka became the first WHO FCTC Party in the South-East Asia region to agree to the WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.


Our tobacco and alcohol control act prohibit all direct and indirect advertising, promotions and sponsorships by the tobacco and alcohol industry. Sri Lanka is one of the very few countries to do so, based on scientific evidence. It also raised the minimum age of smoking and alcohol consumption to 21, prohibit sale of tobacco and alcohol through vending machines, free distribution of tobacco and alcohol products. Sri Lanka, in 2015 banned imports and sales of smokeless tobacco including electronic smoking products. Our duty free shops at the airport do not sell tobacco products. We established a national tobacco quit line (1948) service, which provide support for tobacco cessation. Also, Healthy Life StyleCenters established in more than 800 Primary care Institutions all over the country provide cessation guidance to those quittingq alcohol or tobacco. Apart from all the above successful implementation, we received cabinet approval to ban on sale of cigarettes within 100 meters of school premises. We have initiated the process of plain packaging and I am sure within the next few months we will be able to bring relevant legislature to support the activity .


The tobacco-free zones established through the public health network by the Public Health Inspectors since 2016 , with the support of NATA, Ministry of Health and other stakeholders is perhaps one of the most innovative community level tobacco control measures we have seen anywhere in the world. Currently there are more than 100 such locations throughout the country. New zones too are being initiated in many parts. We have felicitated the good work of our public health staff including Medical Officers of Health and Public Health Inspectors in establishing tobacco free zones. Our target is to establish at least 1000 tobacco free zones within the next two years.   WHO considers that Sri Lanka should take the lead in motivating other countries to try out this unique and effective intervention.


The National Policy on Alcohol Control 2015 includes measures recommended in the WHO Global Strategy on Alcohol Use, incorporates all the SAFER suggestions and additional measures we need to control alcohol related harm in Sri Lanka. We have also included a separate section on preventing interference by the alcohol industry.


In Sri Lanka, recently we undertook a systematic exercise to evaluate the economic costs of tobacco and alcohol use caused by illness and loss of productivity and found that these costs alone far exceed the tax revenues that are generated by tobacco and alcohol. I feel that the case for preventing harm from tobacco and alcohol is very clear. Apart from this, a recent study done by WHO, UNDP and the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, shows evidence that Sri Lanka incurs an economic loss of over Rs. 200 billion annually due to tobacco use. This is far in excess of the taxes obtained from tobacco. It includes the health costs borne by the government and other costs including the loss of employment and loss of family income due to premature deaths and low productivity of the workforce. This report also shows that investing in policies that reduce tobacco use, will bring significant medium and long-term economic gains. I hereby take the opportunity to thank Boomberg Philanthopies for helping us in our tobacco and alcohol control specially by brining in new knowledge and capacity on the subject.


We are also considering well-conceived taxation measures that could go a long way in preventing the youth and the vulnerable from getting attracted and addicted to tobacco and alcohol.


One of the emerging issues is the indirect and insidious advertising of tobacco and alcohol products through cross border social media and entertainment channels digital marketing and governments are finding it extremely difficult to control these efforts.


Our tobacco and alcohol use is at a decreasing trend in the population including youth and we are very proud of our achievements and invite other countries to observe our services.


Thank you