Proposed herbal fags project goes up in smoke: NATA says it will ‘encourage smoking’




A multimillion rupee investment to roll out Sri Lanka’s first-ever locally produced tobacco and nicotine free herbal cigarette has been derailed following unexpected "regulatory hiccups", which has spurred the Customs to detain a consignment of one million empty filter tubes imported to kick-start the ambitious project.

With a 100% composition of cinnamon as the sole ingredient, the envisaged herbal puff was described by its promoter as a "revolutionary move to offer a viable option to cancer causing tobacco products". But, in the backdrop of the proposed business endeavor, initiated at substantial cost running aground, the exasperated investor, P. H. P. Samantha, lamented "I am devastated".

As a big-time cinnamon exporter, this enterprising entrepreneur developed on the innovative concept of producing a herbal cigarette to offer an alternative to wean smokers away from deleterious tobacco products, but the abrupt turnaround, he complains, has "left him benumbed with shock".

As Chairman/Managing Director, Samantha floated a new company, Nature’s Ceylon Cinnamon House, under the umbrella of Nature’s Agro Products Lanka Company, a leading exporter of local cinnamon to many parts of the globe.

Under the proposed project, herbal cigarettes were to be manufactured under the brand ‘Lion Heart’ at a facility in Ambalangoda, a southern area famous for its large scale cinnamon plantations in the Galle district.

"I anticipated smooth sailing after complying with all the stipulations to secure the import license. Fifty machines to manufacture the herbal product were also brought down earlier as the proposed project was given the green light by the authorities", Samantha asserted.

He obtained the patent right for the herbal innovation, which clinched a Merit Recognition as a "Green Leaf Nicotine Free Herbal Cigarette" in the field of Traditional Medicine at the Presidential Awards 2016.

The product has already been tested on key parameters by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), where the literature states that it is cancer safe as the cigarette contains 100% cinnamon as the key ingredient, Samantha noted.

The National Intellectual Property Office of Sri Lanka and the Consumer Affairs Authority have also recommended the product mainly on commercialization and relative importance in serious consideration of its natural herbal content and value which does not make any adverse impact, he said.

Apart from feeding the local market, plans were also underway to export the product to India, Bangladesh, South Korea and Japan to earn valuable foreign exchange, the investor elaborated. "But, with the Customs holding on to the empty filter tubes, the whole project has fallen flat on its face".

"We have some positive inquiries from overseas markets, but everything seems to have collapsed even before we got started", Samantha complained.

"I have now been left in the lurch", he said.

A senior Customs official said he is not aware of the specifics of the case, but under these circumstances, regulatory approval is required to clear the consignment as it relates to the manufacture of cigarettes.

The consignment was detained by the Customs following objections raised by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA), The Sunday Island learns.

As the proposed herbal cigarette does not relate to tobacco, NATA is not directly involved, but our expert panel expressed the opinion that it could ‘encourage smoking’, Dr. Palitha Abeykoon, Chairman of the regulatory authority, said.

"But, before making a firm commitment on this business, I was categorically told that NATA had no say in this process as there was no tobacco or nicotine content in the product", Samantha protested. "My investment has gone up in smoke".

"We have expressed an expert opinion on the matter", Abeykoon clarified.

"It was because all these factors were considered and the necessary approvals granted that we were given the import license and the machinery was also brought down", Samantha opined.

With the proposed project now virtually fallen apart, the one million empty filter tubes imported from Vietnam will eventually have to be destroyed, officials claimed.

Unlike other commodities, the consignment cannot be auctioned either. With its rigid globally accepted British American Tobacco (BAT) standards, selling the stock to CTC (Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC) is also out of the question, they noted.

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