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In May, Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC), the Sri Lankan subsidiary of BAT, organised the donation of alms to devotees celebrating Vesak (the birth, attainment of Buddhahood, and passing away of Buddha) at Ranmuthugala Buddhist temple. Its priests were also offered alms the following day by the country’s President at his official residence, reportedly with CTC officials in attendance. Traditional Vesak lanterns made from cartons of CTC’s Gold Leaf cigarettes were also seen at the temple. Ironically, they had been made by residents of a rehabilitation centre for victims of alcohol, tobacco, and heroine. About 4500 Gold Leaf packets were used to make the lanterns, which were seen by some 20 000 people.
Meanwhile, a more sinister turn of events concerns the Samurdhi government agency, whose work focuses mainly on poverty alleviation. In the past, it has participated in World No Tobacco Day on a significant scale, by running an ingenious smoking cessation scheme that also raises funds for charity. It provides money boxes to young smokers who want to quit, for saving what they would otherwise spend on smoking, then collects the money and uses it to build a house for one of its aid recipients. Many countries would relish such a creative scheme that not only helps people stop smoking, but also produces a highly tangible, worthwhile benefit for the needy. However, a senior government official recently revealed that CTC has offered to build a house every year and make donations to Samurdhi recipients, in place of Samurdhi’s cessation savings scheme. What could more neatly illustrate BAT’s idea of social responsibility?