British American Tobacco undermines tobacco control in Sri Lanka

Religious leaders and public protest in front of the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC), the BAT subsidiary in Sri Lanka, on their AGM day. Image Courtesy of the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC)

This article was written by Manuja Perera, TCRG, University of Bath

Tobacco giant, British American Tobacco (BAT), has been accused of undermining public health laws in Sri Lanka. BAT owns 84% of the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC), which has a monopoly on cigarette sales in the country. [1]

Internal company documents from the nineties reveal how the company was able to manipulate tobacco control and excise laws. Company representatives acted as observers on the key Government committees formulating tobacco control policies, which enabled BAT to “put forward the company’s position to key decision makers” by giving BAT “early warning signals of proposed restrictions”. BAT maintained contact with “key” health officials.

Regarding tax, one BAT Business Plan from the nineties even bragged: “A new Excise structure proposal has been developed in consultation with the Treasury” which “supports our underlying brand strategies”. [2]

Working with the authorities, the company planned to restrict smuggling to “manageable quantities” even though BAT has been implicated in global tobacco smuggling itself. [3]

In the late nineties, after a Presidential Task Force formulated a Tobacco Control plan, the company lobbied the then President, who had just been awarded a WHO Tobacco Free Initiative award for action taken on tobacco by her government. One document noted: “due to CTC lobbying” of the President, the company managed to delay the Bill being presented to “Parliament for approval”, and that it managed to persuade the President that “CTC’s concerns over the bill should be heard”. [4]

More recently, the company has also used legal action against the Sri Lankan government on two occasions to try and prevent the Government strengthening tobacco control laws.

In 2006, when the National Authority of Tobacco and Alcohol Act was introduced, the industry twice went to court against it. The first time it was against the whole Act, saying it violated constitutional rights and the second time the company tried to prevent laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places. The court ruled in favour of the Government in both occasions. [5]

In 2012, when Minister of Health gazetted pictorial health warnings to cover 80% of the cigarette packs, CTC took legal actions against the Minister arguing that it violated their intellectual property rights. The court ruled in favour of the industry, recommending that warnings should be reduced to 50% — 60% of the surface. [6] During the process, the Health Minister publicly accused that tobacco industry officials tried to bribe him. The industry denied the accusations.[7,8,9]

Here are some ways in which you can #ActOnTobacco.

  • Share your stories about how tobacco has affected you and tag them with #ActOnTobacco
  • Help make the campaign visual — share images and photos of the impact tobacco has had on you or those around you.
  • Check with your pension provider to see if they invest in tobacco and if so, encourage them to disinvest. ShareAction can help on this and this ASH briefing provides further information.
  • Contact BAT directly and ask them how they intend to pay for the harm their business has caused. You can email their press office here, tweet their press office @BATPress (tagged #ActOnTobacco) and phone their offices on 020 7845 1000. If you’re outside the UK you can find a list of country specific contacts here.


[1]Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC. Annual Report 2016. 2017. Available:$FILE/medMDAKWEUJ.pdf?openelement accessed 26 April 2017.

[2]Unknown. Sri Lanka Company Plan. 1994 September 23. British American Tobacco Records. Unknown. accessed 26 April 2017


[4] V Malalasekara. Ceylon Tobacco Company limited code of conduct for marketing activities in Sri Lanka. 2000 April 05. British American Tobacco Records. Available: accessed 26 April 2017

[5] Supreme Court Judgment. “National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol” Bill. 20 June 2006. Available: accessed 26 April 2017.

[6] Court of Appeal Judgment. Ceylon Tobacco V. Minster of Health. Available: accessed 26 April 2017 accessed 26 April 2016

[7] The Island, CTC responds to bribery allegations: Pictorial health warnings on Cigarette packs, 2015, Available: accessed 26 April 2017

[8] M.Peiris, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena blasts tobacco industry for attempting to bribe, Asian Tribune, 2013:12(1681), Available: accessed April 2017

[9] D.Rush, Maithripala says tobacco industry tried to bribe him, Business Politics, 2013, Available: accessed November 2016