Bill seeks to curb passive smoking - Chief Justice
COLOMBO: More than 2,500 identified toxic materials are found in tobacco products, observed Chief Justice Sarath N Silva when six petitions challenging the new regulations banning smoking in public places was considered for its constitutionality yesterday
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC further observed that the Bill sought to effectively curb the "Passive Smoking" which was detrimental to the non-smokers.
The Chief Justice noted that the "enclosed public places " had two elements i.e. public places and enclosed areas. He pointed out that the public places was defined to be places where the public would have access.
The "enclosed places" were not defined but the courts could decide the degree of enclosure depending on the each case. He made these observations when the counsel for petitioners, certain hotels, argued that the term "enclosed public places" had been used ambiguously in new revised Bill, which including the non-smoking areas in the tourist hotels.
They also argued that the Bill would curb smoking in tea kiosks patronised mainly for smoking after a "cup of tea." They argued that tea kiosks were sufficiently open and have good ventilation. Justice Thilakawardane observed that people would not smoke inside such kiosks but would usually go out to smoke. The Chief Justice noted that the fine of Rs. 2000 was not "majestic" since it was the maximum fine meant for blatant violations.
The Bench comprised Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC, Justice Mrs. Shirani Thilakawardane and Justice Nimal Gamini Amaratunga.
Intervenient-petitioner Ceylon Temperance Association stated that it was one of the oldest associations working to free the society form tobacco and alcohol and was founded in 1912.
It stated that according to the World Bank reports Tobacco and related products would be the single biggest cause of deaths worldwide in 2030. Tobacco and related products would annually kill 10 million people. It further stated that the four percent of the global diseases was attributed to alcohol with 60 types of identified diseases.
The intervenient-petitioners sought to determine that the whole bill was consistent with the Constitution except for the Section 46 which sought to define an alcoholic beverage to be a product which had more than 4.5 per cent of alcohol. They sought to determine that Section 46 of the Bill to be in violation of the Constitution.
Counsel Manohara de Silva for intervenient-petitioners Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera and the Ceylon Temperance Association submitted that the previous Bill defined an alcoholic beverage to be a product which had more than one percent of alcohol.
He submitted that new definition would enable beer companies to advertise and promote light beer products which would have less than 4.5 % of alcohol, otherwise banned by the new bill.
Aveendra Rodrigo for the Lion Breweries Company submitted that Section 46 of the Bill was not in violation of the Constitution since almost all brands of beer in the market had more than 4.6 per cent of alcohol.
The petitioners including the Ceylon Tobacco Company, Trans Asia Hotel, Blue Oceanic Hotel and Pearl Beach Hotel cited the Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Attorney General as respondents.
The petitioners stated that the Health Ministry in the revised Bill titled "The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol" to curb the smoking in the "enclosed public places." The Tobacco company stated that due to the new regulations contemplated, the company would loose 15% of its business amounting to Rs. 4.5 billion. The CTC stated that tobacco cultivation, importation, cigarette manufacturing were legal business and the ban would be in violation of its rights.
The CTC also stated that the new regulations would affect 115,000 persons who were directly and indirectly involved in the industry. The three hotels contended that the definition of the "enclosed public areas" was ambiguous and would include the separate smoking areas and smoking floors in hotels.
They stated that new regulations would criminalise the guests who would use those separate areas for smoking.
In terms of the new regulations not only patrons but also owners\managers of the hotels too would be liable for if their gusts smoke in the "enclosed public areas" including the separate smoking areas even without their knowledge.
They sought a declaration that the new regulations if enacted would be in violation of the Constitution.
The determination will be sent to the President and the Speaker.