How important is media contribution in building a healthy nation? | Sunday Observer

How important is media contribution in building a healthy nation?

3 January, 2021

The Associate Editor of the Thinakaran newspaper and senior Journalist Marlin Marrikkar receiving an award from Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi for his contribution through the media towards raising public awareness on the importance of overcoming alcohol and drug addiction at a recent ceremony organised by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol at Waters Edge Hotel, Battaramulla. The event on the theme Nidahas Aragalaya - Mathin Thora Deshayak was organised by NATA to felicitate those who are in the forefront in the efforts to overcome alcohol and drug addiction. NATA Chairman Dr. Samadi Rajapakse looks on

A program titled Niyamuwo - Nidahas Aragalaya - guiding a countr y to be free from tobacco and alcohol, was organised by the National Authority of Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), the focal point for tobacco and alcohol control, functioning under the Ministry of Health, on December 23, 2020.

The Chief Guest at this event was Health Minister, Pavithra Wanniarachchi. This was the first occasion in the history of NATA that a ceremony was held to felicitate media personnel striving to create a healthy nation by highlighting information on the hazards of tobacco and alcohol use. At this event, the Minister gave away awards to a number of electronic and print media personnel who had contributed towards tobacco control during 2020.

The program included comprehensive and fruitful discussions with media heads as to how they could improve the commitment while enhancing people’s knowledge and supporting policies to be implemented.

Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Dr. Samadhi Rajapaksa welcomed the media and out lined the future plans of NATA. “As a responsible authority we are taking measures to reduce the enormous health, economic and social burden on the people and the country caused through use of tobacco and alcohol.”, he said.

Dr. Rajapaksa was very hopeful. He expressed his gratitude to Health Minister, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, for her readiness and commitment to help NATA with a far sighted vision to protect people’s health, especially the potential users from getting addicted to tobacco and alcohol use.


NATA has already begun discussions with the Ministry of Education to enlighten school children on the fact that they are facing a big threat with the tobacco industry trying to lure them with various means and ways.

In Sri Lanka 60 people die of tobacco - related diseases each day. Thus, the TI needs to lure new users to replace those who die of tobacco - related diseases such as heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. The industry has even called children ‘replacement smokers’ for those killed by tobacco use. If large numbers of children do not try smoking and go on to become regular users, the tobacco companies eventually would not have enough adult customers to make staying in business worthwhile.

Empowering children to recognise industry strategies is vital. Thus, all the Government institutions under the purview of the Ministry of Education need to collaborate ion this program. NATA has already developed a circular about the program and submitted it to the Ministry of Education. Every year an audit to ascertain the progress in relation to different aspects of the program would be carried out.

The NATA Chairman said that his mission would be to ‘close up NATA’ in the sense that tobacco and alcohol would not be a burden to the country anymore.

“Prevalence of tobacco and alcohol will not be a challenge for us. We are determined to continue our struggle and strengthen the President’s Saubhagyaye Dekma – ‘Vision of Prosperity’, “ Dr. Rajapaksa said.

National need

Eradication of tobacco and alcohol use is a national need as it affects the health, economy, social background and spirituality of the nation.

Currently, the cost of tobacco and alcohol consumption per day in Sri Lanka is more than a hundred million rupees. The health expenditure which the Government incurs treating diseases caused through consumption of these products is about three times more than the ‘so-called’ revenue that comes to the Government treasury from these two industries.

Therefore, NATA has already developed a feasible tax formula for tobacco products to be submitted to the Government. “This a golden opportunity for the country to gain extra revenue”, the NATA Chairman said.

The NATA Chairman briefed media heads about the ‘Framework Convention of Tobacco Control’ (FCTC) of the WHO, to which Sri Lanka is a party. Since Sri Lanka implemented Article 13 of the FCTC in 2006, which prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products, the media has no authority to promote using tobacco even in indirect manner. A guideline in this regard was distributed among media heads. “We would conduct a survey on this and if there are violations, we would certainly take legal action against such media institutions.” Dr. Rajapaksa said.

“During the past many years we observed how the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities of the tobacco industry has been taking place and the tobacco industry got media publicity for their work through the print media. This is a violation and if found such practices in the future, we would take legal action against them, he said.

Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera said that since NATA is implementing regulations and policies of the Government, more than private media, government media institutions have an obligation to give due priority and publicity through their publications. Therefore, the Ven. Thera called upon government media heads to pay more attention on this matter.


Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said she was committed to bring in necessary regulations to amend the NATA Act to enable NATA implementation of important laws and regulations pertaining to tobacco and alcohol. She said; “I wish to see less hospitals in the country which is an indication that more healthy people are living in the country. I am fully committed to reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases. The main barrier to reducing non-communicable diseases is tobacco and alcohol use.

We should start it from school children who are the foundation to eradicate tobacco and alcohol use and promote health. We have a duty to guide people away from wrong unhealthy lifestyles and practices. As a mother and a sister extending loving kindness towards others - I would like to render my complete contribution to this worthy cause - to shun tobacco and alcohol use. I respect the media personnel who have been shouldering this massive task by making every effort to educate people. “

Chief of Public Health Inspectors Upul Rohana said how they set up 156 Tobacco Free Zones. According to him, the tobacco industry had become a huge challenge when the PHIs took steps to create smoke-free zones. The industry had attempted to discourage the PHIs activities. “However, we will continuously do this job.” he said.

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Chairman Visharada Jagath Wickremasinghe promised to shoulder their responsibility as a national media network, no matter that it would be a challenging campaign.

Marketing strategies

Director of the National Cancer Control Program Dr. Janaki Vidanapathirana said that the marketing strategies of the tobacco and alcohol industries are less spoken about in society. She said that the behavioural style of both industries and the vulnerable groups should be clearly studied first and then reaction strategies should be developed to overcome the problems.

She said that soft skills and personality development measures for children would be initiated and ensured from school level to keep the children to be away from tobacco and alcohol use. In this manner, the parents have a golden opportunity to communicate with their children and empower them to make wise decisions by themselves. In this regard attractive and creative messages should be developed to reach children, instead of giving “dreadful concepts about health consequences”, she said.

President of the Government Medical Officers Association Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya said that the biggest problem caused through alcohol and tobacco are non-communicable diseases. It is the main cause for NCDs. It has risen from 70 percent to 82 percent. Therefore, tobacco and alcohol use should be banished from society. “We are introducing an ongoing program for inquiring from every patient who consults doctors for NCD related diseases, whether they are in the habit of using these products”. A survey should be conducted to ascertain the progress,” he said adding, that he was happy to work with the new Health Minister.

Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Chairman Dr. Nihal Jayathilaka said as a responsible media institution they are determined to give ‘prime time’ for programs that help the prevention of tobacco and alcohol use.


Media veteran, Ariyasiri Dombagahawata, spoke about the challenges that media personnel encounter both from the tobacco and alcohol industries and high profiles associated with them, when getting their write ups on these two issues published in newspapers. “This is a huge burden and challenge for the media”, he said. He said that the media is the fourth estate of a country who have the responsibility to give ethics to society and direct people to the correct paths. Everybody responsible should understand the reality of this fact clearly and allow media freedom to give the best to society.

Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health Dr. Lakshmi Somatunga presented details as to how tobacco use becomes a health burden to society and increases health budgets.

Psychiatrist Dr. Venura Palihawadena said how tobacco industry influences the youth and called upon the media to expose those strategies and help youth not become a victim of the industry. Psychiatrist Dr. Danujaya Mahesh said that introducing programs to study school children’s behavioural patterns and changes is important. It should be done in an attractive and inspiring manner and the 2020 circular submitted by NATA to the Ministry of Education can hopefully help gain much benefit. Parents, old boys and teachers should collaborate in these programs.