Killing Innocent Children for Profit


"Why kill the innocent? Is the rhetorical question leading cardiologist Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana’s scientific invective against the tobacco industry published prominently in The Island of 8th March 2014. With the meritocratic authority of a highly qualified cardiologist who routinely sees the havoc wreaked by tobacco on the human cardiovascular system, Dr. UW’s contribution to the unfinished war against the menace of tobacco in our country could be both formidable and decisive.


Dr. Upul may be inspired to know that in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s message to the nation on World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on 31st May 2008, he urged us to work towards the goal of making Sri Lanka a tobacco smoke-free country by WNTD 2015. In the same message in 2008 when the menace of LTTE terrorism was at its height, he also remarked that he sometimes felt that the elimination of the menace of intoxicating drugs might prove to be a tougher challenge than the liquidation of LTTE terrorism!. In the event, he had spoken more prophetically than he probably knew. LTTE terrorism was formally exterminated on the 18th of May 2009, but the drug menace including tobacco terrorism, continues unabated. For years the tobacco industry killed more people each year than the LTTE during its reign of terror.

Passive smoking

In his article Dr. UW cites evidence to prove that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in childhood irreversibly damages arteries of those so exposed, leading to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in adulthood. He also reminds us what my poor father, a chain-smoking humble apothecary who paid for it with his health and life, did not know in the 1930s. And what was that? That the children exposed to second hand tobacco smoke are more likely to suffer from asthma in adult life. My earliest memories on earth are about sitting on my father’s lap while he smoked cigarette after cigarette. (In his 30s he smoked a tin of 50 cigarettes a day; in his 40s he suffered from high blood pressure complicated by heart failure and he died of a massive heart attack at age 54.) Dr. UW will not be surprised at all to learn that in adulthood I incurred both infirmities attributable to passive smoking, namely, a heart attack and asthma. Fortunately, I had the benefit of the expert attention of my former brilliant pupil Dr. Ruvan Ekanayake who completely rehabilitated me within a few weeks of sustaining a left bundle brunch block associated with heart failure. And my asthma is expertly managed by Dr. Channa Ranasinghe, son of my dear friend and batchmate Dr. Kingsley Ranasinghe, who educated Channa in the best medical schools in London and brought him home to serve his motherland. At age 81, however, I am conscious of the fact that I am virtually at the end of my tether and I feel strongly that others must carry on the anti-tobacco war in our country to a conclusion. This is where cardiologist Dr. UW, as the pioneer who started the anti-tobacco war in our country, has a critical role to play. That is why I spoke of The Importance of Being Dr. Upul Wijewardana!


In a digression in his article Dr. UW has very generously dubbed me as "an intellectual". I am not sure at all that I fit the description. I forget exactly whom, but I do remember reading some reliable writer telling us the difference between an intellectual and a professional. According to him an intellectual lives for ideas; whereas a professional lives off ideas. As a medic, I have certainly lived off ideas. My English Dictionary for Advanced Learners defines an intellectual as "someone who spends a lot of time studying and thinking about complicated ideas." For my part, the most complicated idea I think about is how to rid ourselves of the murderous tobacco industry which kills six million people every year to earn its huge profits. However that may be, Dr. UW will agree with me that the most devastating indictment of an intellectual came from the English poet WH Auden:

To the man in the street, who I am sorry to say

Is a keen observer of life,

The word "intellectual" suggest straightaway

A man who’s untrue to his wife

Carlo Fonseka

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