By Venessa Anthony
The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) recently conducted an appreciation ceremony for Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) for implementing tobacco-free zones.
The event was held at the BMICH on 30 December 2022, and was graced by Gampaha Chief Magistrate Majula Karunaratne and NATA Chairman Prof. Samadhi Rajapaksa.
At the event, four PHIs who contributed to establishing tobacco-free zones in Sri Lanka were awarded with the medal “Excellence in establishing Tobacco-Free Zones” for their outstanding efforts.
PHI P.H.P. Manjula was awarded for establishing the first-ever tobacco-free zone in Sri Lanka, followed by Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle Convenor Supun Lahiru Prakash, who was awarded for introducing a 10-step process for establishing tobacco-free zones. PHI Union of Sri Lanka President M.G.U. Rohana and former Principal PHI N.A. Jayathissa also received the award. Additionally, inspectors who have shown leadership in establishing tobacco-free zones at the grassroots level received official NATA Leader badges and certificates in recognition of their duties.
Prof. Samadhi Rajapaksa also took the floor to debut a book edited by him, titled Initiation of Tobacco Free Zones towards Eradicating Tobacco from Sri Lanka (The Ground Level Public Health Initiatives). Speaking to The Morning Brunch regarding this launch, he said the pathway to a tobacco-free Sri Lanka involves strengthening and expanding the Tobacco-Free Zone (TFZ) as a policy measure for tobacco-smoking cessation in Sri Lanka. He further explained that TFZs are a community-based tobacco smoking cessation intervention, currently being implemented in several locations in Sri Lanka, and that NATA, which initiated this in 2016, is the main agency responsible for their implementation.
“Right now, TFZs are co-ordinated and managed by PHIs at the community level. The TFZ approach is to hold a series of discussions, led by the PHI of the area and community members, with retail shop owners to stop the sale of tobacco and smoking-related products. Once all the parties come to an agreement, the area is declared a tobacco-free zone,” he shared, when speaking on what his book details.
He added that aside from launching this book to raise awareness, activities on tobacco control such as awareness campaigns are being carried out with the involvement of community members.
When asked if they have seen any improvement or progress so far, Rajapaksa informed us that these TFZs have helped the community in many ways.
“It controls tobacco smoking, enhances the overall health and economic status of a community, and community members benefit from greater social cohesion through participation in community activities.”
However, he also noted that at present, there are no measures to quantify the effectiveness and impact of these efforts. Their success is measured based on personal judgments, which are subjective, and thus developing indicators to measure the effectiveness of TFZs is recommended. It has been suggested by the Institute of Policy Studies in Sri Lanka (IPS) to utilise a tool such as a logical framework to be used to improve planning, implementation, management, monitoring, and evaluation of this initiative.
In the long run, NATA believes that these efforts will not go in vain, and has many plans for this year to reduce the consumption of tobacco and alcohol in the country, in hopes of extending the lives of Sri Lankan citizens and offering a better and healthier lifestyle to many.