Sri Lanka- Country Profile

This page was last edited on at

Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean with a population of 20.2 million.1 Tobacco cultivation was first introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese in the 16th century and it is speculated that they also introduced the habit of tobacco smoking.2

Image 1: Trends of Tobacco Smoking Among Males in Sri Lanka

Smoking in Sri Lanka

According to the 2015 STEPWise approach to Surveillance (STEPs) Non-Communicable Disease risk factor survey results by the World Health Organization and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, current tobacco smoking prevalence among those aged between 18 and 69 years was 15.0% with a daily smoking prevalence rate of 10.2%. The reported prevalence for current tobacco smoking among men was 29.4% and 0.1% among women.3
Results from the July 2015 Spot Survey conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), on males over the age of 15 years, reported a steady decrease of tobacco smoking prevalence from the beginning of the 1990s to 2015 (Image 1). 4

Burden of Tobacco Use

Tobacco is estimated to be responsible for 1 in every 10 adult deaths in Sri Lanka accounting for 222 deaths per week.5 The reported annual revenue of the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) PLC Ltd. in 2015, Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) 106.5 Billion, (the equivalent of approximately 722 Million US dollars) indicates the economic burden of tobacco on Sri Lankan households.6 Local evidence from academics Varuni De Silva and colleagues suggests some rural low income households in Sri Lanka spend around 40% of their income on tobacco.7

The Tobacco Market

British American Tobacco (BAT), holds a monopoly share of the Sri Lankan tobacco market, operating via its local counterpart British American Tobacco Holdings (Sri Lanka). The company owns 84.13% of the shares of the Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC Ltd (CTC) which is responsible for the entire manufacturing process from tobacco cultivation to cigarette production in Sri Lanka. CTC owns 99% of the market with the remaining 1% comprising of imported cigarettes.8 Almost 100% of the tobacco used for cigarette manufacturing in Sri Lanka is cultivated in the country, which accounted for approximately 3000 tons of tobacco in 2014.9 CTC also exports its manufactured cigarettes, which contributes approximately 1% to its overall annual revenue.

Tobacco Control Initiatives

Sri Lanka was the first country in Asia to ratify the world’s first global public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the fourth globally.10 It is also the first country in the South East Asian Region (SEAR) to introduce tobacco control legislation. The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act (NATA Act) was enacted in 2006 to protect public health from tobacco and alcohol related harm.11

National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act12

NATA act prohibits;

  • sale to or by persons under 21 years of age;
  • installation of vending machines for tobacco products;
  • sale of tobacco products without health warning and the tar, nicotine content in each tobacco product;
  • tobacco advertisements and sponsorships etc;
  • free distribution etc of tobacco products;
  • offences relating to trademarks;
  • smoking in public places.

Image 2: Pictorial Warnings in cigarette packages in Sri Lanka13

Packaging and Labelling Regulations 14

On 1 June 2015 Sri Lanka implemented pictorial health warnings covering 80% of the top surface area of both front and back covers of tobacco packets, which also includes a text message in all three languages used in the country (Sinhala, Tamil and English).

Price and Tax Measures

Tobacco tax in Sri Lanka is governed by the Tobacco Tax Act.1516 Tobacco tax was revised on two occasions in 2016, and the price of the most sold brand of cigarette, John Player Gold Leaf, was raised by 143% (from LKR 35 to LKR 50) as a result. Yet, the price remained below a level that would affect the affordability of this brand.17

Community Empowerment and Mobilisation

The general public of Sri Lanka, namely, community based organisations, non-governmental organisations and community groups organised informally, play a major role in tobacco control. Public pressure and support has helped policy makers and politicians to select decisions favourable for public health over alternatives favourable for the industry, for example, pictorial health warnings and advertising bans.181920

Industry Interference in Tobacco Control

The tobacco industry has interfered with the country’s attempts to introduce tobacco control policies.212223 An example of successful tobacco industry interference is when CTC took legal action against the Minister of Health, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, over the implementation of 80% pictorial health warnings (PHW) for tobacco packets in 2012.24 Mr. Maithripala Sirisena who later became the President of Sri Lanka in 2015, was the Minister of Health during the period of implementation of PHWs. He publicly claimed that the CTC tried to bribe him during the process, even though CTC denied the accusation.25262728
Furthermore, in 2015 CTC executives continued to hold posts in government institutions, thereby allowing them access to the policy making process. In addition, CTC is also accused of point-of-sale advertising and promotion, strategic targeting of youth and women in marketing campaigns and influencing communities via retailers and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) based activities.2930

Monitoring Tobacco Industry Interference

In June 2016, Sri Lanka launched the Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT), a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) tobacco industry observatory. CCT’s remit is to monitor tobacco industry interference at different levels. It’s information portal TobaccoUnmasked, replicates the model of the Tobacco Control Research Group’sTobaccoTactics website at the University of Bath and disseminates information on tobacco industry violations of the FCTC’s Article 5.3. In August 2017, CCT initiated the first ever public hotline on Article 5.3, giving public the opportunity to report violations of Article 5.3 from grass-root level upwards.

External Resources

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Department of Census and Statistics, Census of Population and Housing, 2012, 2012, accessed November 2016
  2. C.G.Uragoda, A History of Medicine in Sri Lanka. Colombo: Sri Lanka Medical Association, 1987
  3. Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Sri Lanka. Non-communicable Disease Risk Factor Survey, Sri Lanka 2015, Colombo: Ministry of Health/World Health Organization, 2016, accessed November 2016
  4. Alcohol and Drug Information Centre, ADIC Spot Survey July 2015, 2016, accessed November 2016
  5. M.Eriksen, J.Mackay, N.Schulger, Tobacco Atlas. Fifth Ed., Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2015, accessed November 2016
  6. Ceylon Tobacco Company, Ceylon Tobacco Company Annual Report 2015, 2016, accessed November 2016
  7. V.De Silva, D.Samarasinghe, R.Hanvella. Association between concurrent alcohol and tobacco use and poverty. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2011,30:69–73
  8. N.Arunathilake, M.Opatha, The Economics of Tobacco in Sri Lanka., Economics of Tobacco Control Paper No. 12, Tobacco Free Initiative, World Health Organization, 2003, accessed November 2016
  9. Sri Lanka Excise Department, Sri Lanka Excise Department Performance Report 2014, Colombo: Sri Lanka Excise Department, 2015, accessed November 2016
  10. C. Fonseka. Tobacco, Alcohol and Doctors, The Ceylon Medical Journal. 2009, 54(3):71-74
  11. National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA). National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Website, 2009, accessed November 2016
  12. National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) act, Colombo: Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 2006, accessed November2016
  13. Tobacco Products (Labelling and Packaging) Regulations, No. 01 of 2012, Colombo: Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, accessed November 2016
  14. National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (Amendment) Act, No. 3 of 20, Colombo: Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 2015, accessed November 2016
  15. Tobacco Tax Act. No. 8 of 1999, Colombo: Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, accessed November 2016
  16. Tobacco Tax (Amendment) Act. No. 9 of 2004, Colombo: Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, accessed November 2016
  17. N. De Mel. 165th Anniversary IOGT Celebrations, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 2016
  18. Alcohol & Drug Information Centre, Public’s Attitudes Concerning Implementation of Pictorial Health Warnings (PHWs) and Tobacco Industry Interference to Undermine Enforcement of PHWs in Sri Lanka, Colombo: ADIC, accessed November 2016.
  19. F.Samath, Tobacco, Alcohol Ad Ban Seeks Public Support, Inter Press Service News Agency, 1999, accessed November 2016
  20. Jeewaka Foundation. National Report (Sri Lanka) on Implementation of Provision Nos. 8, 11 & 13 Of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), accessed November, 2016
  21. Ceylon Tobacco Company, V.Malalasekera, Ceylon Tobacco Company Limited: Code of Conduct for marketing activities in Sri Lanka. 05 Apr 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, British American Tobacco, Bates No: 304082328, accessed November 2016
  22. WHO Regional Office of South East Asia. Countering Tobacco Industry Interference: Report of a regional meeting, New Delhi, 19–21 March 2013, accessed November, 2016
  23. Colombo Page. Proposal to increase cigarette prices in the Cabinet within two weeks, 2016, accessed November 2016
  24. A.Marsoof, Sri Lankan Court of Appeal balances tobacco trade mark rights and the promotion of public health, Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, 2014, accessed November 2016
  25. M. Peiris, Controversy over pictorial health warnings covering the front and back of the tobacco packs, Asian Tribune, 26 March 2013, accessed May 2017
  26. M.Peiris, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena blasts tobacco industry for attempting to bribe, Asian Tribune, 2013:12(1681), accessed November 2016
  27. D.Rush, Maithripala says tobacco industry tried to bribe him, Business Politics, 2013, accessed November 2016
  28. Lanka Business Online, Sri Lanka BAT unit denies bribery allegations, 2013, accessed November, 2016
  29. T. Seimon, G.L. Mehl, Strategic marketing of cigarettes to young people in Sri Lanka: Go ahead–I want to see you smoke it now. Tobacco Control 1998 7(4): 429-433. doi: 10.1136/tc.7.4.429
  30. Alcohol & Drug Information Centre. Unveiling the tobacco company strategies after the policy enforcement. Colombo: ADIC, 2008