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It is hard to believe that a tobacco company, responsible for pushing products that cause thousands of premature deaths every year, would have the nerve to sponsor a shrine to those who gave their lives for their fellow citizens, far less plaster its company logo all over it. But British American Tobacco’s (BAT’s) subsidiary in Sri Lanka, CTC, which shares the parent company’s none-too-subtle golden tobacco leaf as a logo, has done just that, at the National Remembrance Park opened in October 2002 in Kandy district, in the centre of the country.
CTC’s name and logo appear not only on signs leading visitors to and around the park, but prominently engraved for posterity on a stone memorial tablet at the solemn heart of the place, above the inscription: “In sincere appreciation of those who sacrificed their lives for our nation so that we may live in peace.” Doubtless the BAT/CTC people responsible were sincere in their appreciation of the fallen, but a cynic might consider the irony that tobacco executives may hold a parallel, sincere appreciation of all those who are addicted to their company’s products. These customers risk sacrificing their lives by the daily satisfaction of their addiction, in a commercial process encouraged by massive promotion, so that the executives and shareholders may live in greater personal, economic peace than might otherwise be likely.
Interestingly, the exploitation of such an important national landmark by a tobacco company has prompted one of the first acts of civil disobedience prompted by tobacco in a developing country. In a scene reminiscent of BUGA-UP, that famous group of early graffitists in Australia, a young Sri Lankan protester was captured on film “improving” one of the signs, as BUGA-UP might have put it. His message, when completed, read, “CTC kills children”. Whether he had in mind children who die because of malnutrition due to the drain on family income caused by their fathers’ addiction, or to future deaths among the children of today currently being recruited to smoking, the appearance of such protests must be worrying for tobacco companies.