Former Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Dr. Palitha Abeykoon, has been named as one of the awardees for the WHO World No Tobacco Day 2021, hosted by the South Asian region.
Dr. Abeykoon was appointed as the Chairperson of NATA in 2014, and under his tenure, worked closely with local law enforcement bodies, to ensure the firm implementation of tobacco laws in the country.
With regards to regulation of tobacco related activities and implementing necessary laws, Sri Lanka appears to have been proactive:
- Sri Lanka was one among the first few SouthAsian countries to adopt a tobacco control law in line with the Articles of the FCTC, the National Tobacco and Alcohol Act of 2006.
- The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), was set up later on as a result of this.
Under his tenure, Mr. Abeykoon has been successful in establishing the following:
- He worked closely with the public health network and enforcement agencies such as the Sri Lanka Police, Customs, and the Department of Excise to strengthen enforcement of tobacco control laws.
- Sri Lanka was one of 15 countries selected for the WHO FCTC Project, resulting in major policy changes.
- Worked towards reducing the harmful use of tobacco and alcohol in Sri Lanka.
- Implemented a ban on smokeless tobacco through the NATA Gazette notification banning the import, distribution, and sale of all forms of smokeless tobacco in Sri Lanka in 2016.
- Set up tobacco-free zones. Encouraged traders to voluntarily stop cigarette sales, after which cigarettes were made unavailable in 120 towns around Sri Lanka
- Worked towards increasing the tobacco tax in 2016,following a study that indicated the affordability of cigarettes, compared to 30 years ago.
- Made SL agree to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. SL became the first country in SouthAsia to come on board and as a result of this, gained recognition by the WHO