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Thursday May 13th, 2021
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Sri Lanka presidential challenger to get his own back over tobacco warnings

Nov 27, 2014 (Economynext) – Sri Lanka’s common opposition Presidential hopeful said he will implement tough pictorial warnings on tobacco covering 90 percent of the pack, as he had quit his portfolio partly over the blocking of the regulation.

Former health minister Maithripala Sirisena told a group of doctors in Colombo that the administration led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa had blocked and delayed his attempts to bring tobacco warnings.

He had wanted to amend the law to bring pictorial warnings but the cabinet of ministers had rejected his cabinet memorandum.

He had been told by some ministers that the move will hurt the tourist industry with some saying that not a foreigner (suddekwath) would visit the country if pictorial warnings covered 80 percent of packs, he recalled.

Sirisena said then he had resorted to a provision where the regulations could be gazetted without first going to parliament. He had gazetted the laws without the knowledge of anyone in higher authority.

"I took responsibility. I was prepared to be sacked," he said.

Sirisena said he had incurred the displeasure of higher powers especially after that.

Parliament had also overwhelmingly supported the gazetted regulation later. The tobacco company then went to court.

Court then reduce the coverage of warning to 60 percent of the pack. He said former Chief Justice Sarath Silva – a controversial figure who had also come under fire for his allegedly partisan decisions favoring ruling administrations – had told him such a decision was unusual.

"At least 25 people die due to smoking every day," he told doctors. "You know the problem"

"When I come to power, the first thing I will do is to bring a gazette for pictorial warnings to cover 95 percent of the pack."

Bringing laws by gazette without public discussion is a dangerous trend which is partly why there is a remedy of going to court, analysts say.

Regulations can be drawn up secretly out of sight of the public and published by gazette suddenly with good or ill intentions. Such regulation may or not be fair or just.

Adolf Hitler completely bypassed parliament through an ‘enabling act’ in 1933 (Ermächtigungsgesetz) and gave effect to all laws through the Reich gazette.

Sirisena quit the ministry to challenge President Rajapaksa and has promised to bring back rule of law and constitutional restraint, independence of the judiciary and the public service, and abolish or reduce the powers of the presidency.

Earlier his attempts to bring a law to regulate drugs had also been stymied with the draft bill and supporting documents mysteriously disappearing from the legal draftsman’s office a week before the finalized draft was due to be returned to the health ministry, he said.

A representative of a pharmaceuticals firm had told him later in confidence that 2.5 million rupees had been collected from each firm.

"I did not ask him who collected the money, but there are more than 400 pharmaceutical companies registered."

Controlling the availability of different brands as well as price can hurt the freedom of sick people to choose the brand of drugs they want as well as their availability.

Critics say some brands of generic drugs may not work as effectively as those made by companies based in better regulated jurisdictions such as the US, and no efficacy tests are usually performed on generics.

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