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‘Total ban’: Could this be the last generation of smokers?

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Brookline, Massachusetts, banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2000, with a NZ law to be introduced this year. Could Australia be next?

BY Donna Lu

The Guardian, UK

Beyond the usual memorable factors – fears about the millennium bug, the dawn of the 21st century – 1 January 2000 is a significant date in Brookline, Massachusetts. In the town, on the outskirts of Boston, vendors are legally banned from selling tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone born after Y2K.

The legislation came into effect last September, after a vote in November 2020, making Brookline the first US town to implement such a law, in the hopes of gradually phasing out smoking for younger generations.

It isn’t clear how effective the policy in Brookline will be, given the town’s proximity to other jurisdictions where sales are legal. But similar proposals – often termed policies for “tobacco-free generations” (TFG) – are now being considered at the national level by several countries.

New Zealand is set to introduce a law this year which would prevent anyone aged 14 and younger – when the legislation takes effect in 2023 – from ever legally buying smoking products. Unlike Brookline, New Zealand’s policy will not include a ban on e-cigarette sales. Lawmakers in Denmark are considering a similar proposal for anyone born after 2010, and in recent months both the Malaysian and Singaporean health ministries have flagged their intention of following New Zealand’s lead in aiming for a tobacco endgame. Should Australia consider similar legislation?

‘No safe age’

In Australia, tobacco smoking is the leading cause of premature death and disability. It kills more people in this country each year than alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides or – in the past two years – Covid, points out Jon Berrick, an emeritus professor at Singapore’s Yale-NUS College, who now lives in Sydney.

A mathematician by training, Berrick developed a personal interest in tobacco policies and was one of a group of researchers who floated the TFG idea in a 2010 paper. It suggested 2000 as a threshold birth year for a “long-term phasing-in of a total ban”.

Unlike laws prohibiting sales to under-18s or under-21s, “if you have it on a birth cohort basis … you’re sending out the message: there is no safe age for smoking”, Berrick says.

Smoking rates have declined steadily in Australia since the 1990s, to 11.6% of adults in 2019. Between 2001 and 2019, the proportion of daily smokers aged 18 to 39 has halved, though figures have not improved in those in their 50s and 60s.

Proponents of TFG laws believe it is a more palatable option than an outright ban on all smoking products.

“You can’t just ban it overnight. What happens to the people who are dependent on it?” Berrick says. Sales restrictions based on birth date would instead concentrate efforts on preventing adolescents from taking up smoking in the first place, he says.

To date, there has been one attempt to implement TFG legislation in Australia – an unsuccessful private members bill in Tasmania, introduced in 2014 by the independent MP Ivan Dean.

The state would be well placed for implementing a TFG proposal, says Dr Kathryn Barnsley, an adjunct researcher at the University of Tasmania and convenor of SmokeFree Tasmania. “We’ve got a very good licensing system and highly efficient enforcement of sales to minors in Tasmania, which some of the other states don’t have.”

The sale of tobacco products, as well as enforcement of regulations, is under the purview of state governments, “with the exception of some commonwealth legislation relating to advertising and packaging”, Barnsley says.

There are, however, hints at age restrictions in the latest consultation draft of the 2022-2030 national tobacco strategy, which proposes to “consider the feasibility of raising the minimum age of purchase of tobacco products and monitor international developments on this matter”.

Black market fears

TFG proposals are not without critics. Dr Brendan Gogarty, of the University of Tasmania, wrote in The Conversation in 2016 that while smoking “represents a significant social danger”, the legislative response to social risks “must be evidence-based and considerate of constitutional limits and civil rights”.

“Targeting laws at people who cannot hold lawmakers to account at the polls is undemocratic. It is also unfair to have one generation telling the other to ‘do as I say, not as I do’,” Gogarty wrote.

He also criticised the effectiveness of tobacco prohibition: “Laws that rely on prohibition to reduce the prevalence and harm from drugs generally fail to achieve their aims. That was true of historic alcohol prohibition laws. It remains true of the continued legal prohibition on narcotics.”

But Berrick points to two historical precedents for generational phase-out, in regulations that successfully curbed opium smoking in Taiwan, then known as Formosa, in 1900 and Sri Lanka – a British colony at the time – in 1911.

“You have to have demand to create a black market,” Barnsley says. “Tobacco would remain awash in Australia or Tasmania or any other state if you brought in the tobacco-free generation proposal, because it would still be sold legitimately in outlets.”

Marita Hefler, an associate professor at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, is also dismissive of prohibition criticisms. “It’s a lazy argument to say that ‘prohibition never works’ or to use the US experiment from the 1920s or even the ‘war on drugs’ as evidence,” she says.

“After 30-plus years of policies to reduce smoking, the Australian public overwhelmingly have negative attitudes towards cigarettes and the tobacco industry.

“A majority of smokers want to quit and wish they’d never started. Most smokers don’t want the young people in their lives to ever smoke.”

One downside of the TFG proposal is that “this measure on its own won’t achieve Australia’s goal of less than 5% smoking prevalence by 2030, because it is a very slowly implemented phase-out,” says Coral Gartner, an associate professor at the University of Queensland and an international expert in tobacco control policy.

“In New Zealand, it is a policy that is being brought in with a range of other policies that are likely to have a larger and faster impact on smoking prevalence, such as a very low nicotine standard for cigarettes,” she says.

Gartner and Hefler are among public health experts who have argued for stricter regulation of tobacco sales in Australia, calling for a ban on cigarettes from being sold in general retail outlets.

“If the level of potential harm from vaping products is considered unacceptable for them to be sold as consumer products [nicotine vapes are now prescription-only in Australia] – that should also make everyone question why is it acceptable for tobacco cigarettes to be sold … when they have a much stronger evidence base in terms of risk to health,” says Gartner.

An alternative could be designing a “pharmaceutical-like” regulatory framework, she suggests, where the products are supplied in pharmacies and “a health professional can provide advice on risks and benefits”.

Hefler says any TFG proposal would need to “avoid creating a new epidemic of e-cigarette use among young people and non-smokers” – as is a potential risk in New Zealand. “But cigarettes need even tighter regulation than e-cigarettes and are overdue to be phased out,” she says.

More than a decade after he and his colleagues proposed the TFG idea, Berrick seems pleased that legislators around the world are now seriously considering it as an endgame approach to tobacco. “I joke that peer influence is just as important among health ministers as it is among teenagers,” he says.

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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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