Heart-driven Movendi International member organization the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) and its youth wing Youth Action Network (YAN) campaigned to increase alcohol and tobacco taxes in the Sri Lankan interim budget which was on August 2022.
Together with communities and civil society across the country, ADIC called on the government to increase alcohol and tobacco taxes to improve the health and development of Sri Lanka. Public health oriented alcohol and tobacco tax increases reduce consumption of harmful products, prevent harm, lower costs, and increase government revenue. Additional benefits of alcohol and tobacco taxation are to 1) reduce taxes on essential items, and 2) stop dollars from flowing out of the country to multinationals during the ongoing forex crisis.
ADIC campaign activities
ADIC conducted multiple campaign activities across the island, for example in the social media, media briefings, poster and leaflet campaigns, as well as a petition and youth protests.
1. Facebook campaign
Starting with World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2022 ADIC launched the campaign under the theme “This is enough, let’s stop from 31st” to stop dollars from flowing out of the country to tobacco multinationals.
Then from May to August, ADIC volunteers continued the campaign to increase alcohol and tobacco tax and decrease taxes on essential items.
Due to the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka prices on essential items have skyrocketed by about 200% making daily living a struggle for many.
However, prices of cigarettes have only increased by 16% during this time.
ADIC brought notice to these issues, highlighting that increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes and decreasing taxes on essential items is the duty of the government.
The price comparison post shared by ADIC went viral and received wide public attention.
2. ADIC and YAN press release
In lieu of the World No Tobacco Day, ADIC published a press release on raising cigarette taxes to stop the flow of dollars out of the country to foreign multinationals.
YAN Sri Lanka published a press release calling on the Ministry of Finance to raise cigarette taxes and stop the flow of dollars to tobacco multinationals and use that revenue for development instead.
3. Poster campaign
ADIC together with YAN put up posters in all 25 districts of Sri Lanka calling to raise taxes on alcohol and tobacco in the interim budget and decrease taxes on essential items.
4. Leaflet campaign
ADIC and YAN distributed leaflets on public transport calling to increase alcohol and tobacco taxes in the interim budget.
5. Petition to increase alcohol and tobacco taxes to decrease dollar flowing out of the country
ADIC and YAN collected signatures from citizens of 10 districts to petition the government to increase alcohol and tobacco taxes in the interim budget and decrease taxes on essential items.
The petition was handed over to the Finance Ministry prior to the interim budget.
6. Youth and community protests
Members of ADIC together with young people from YAN and communities held silent protests across the country calling on the government to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes in the interim budget.
The protest held in Colombo Fort was covered by three national Television channels and several other protests also received media attention from national newspapers and Television channels.
7. Public announcement in railway stations
ADIC coordinated with the Colombo Fort, Kandy, and Galle main railway stations to broadcast the advocacy message calling to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes in the interim budget and reduce taxes of essential items.
8. Mobilizing civil society to take action
Ahead of the interim budget, ADIC invited six civil society groups and built their capacity on lobbying politicians to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes.
As a result, the groups sent 15 letters to the President, the Minister of Finance, the Secretary to the Minister of Finance, and the Central Bank Governor.
All the groups received a response from the presidential secretariat acknowledging their letters and stating the government will look into the people’s request.
What was the result of the campaign?
The issue of low taxes and prices on alcohol and tobacco while prices of essential goods are skyrocketing in the country received more public, media, and political attention due to this campaign.
Two national television programs invited ADIC representatives to speak about the campaign on air. Three more television channels telecasted the campaign. Seven national newspapers wrote about the campaign.
Within the parliament, three ministers spoke up during parliamentary sessions about the low taxes on alcohol and tobacco and the need to raise taxes.
While taxes on alcohol and tobacco were not specifically raised in the interim budget, the value-added tax (VAT) increase led to a rise in cigarette prices in the country.