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By Ranga Sirilal

Written by: Staff

Colombo, July 5 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's parliament today passed a law banning advertising of tobacco and alcohol, and limiting sales to over-21s in what appeared to be another victory for the government's Buddhist monk allies.

Critics said the move would only serve to boost illegal liquor sales.

''This is a victory of ours,'' said monk Athuraliye Rathana Thera, parliamentary group leader for the JHU, or National Heritage Party. ''With this, at least we are able to stop selling tobacco to under age.'' The JHU, which has 9 out of 225 parliamentary seats, had wanted a total ban on selling at all near schools and temples.

The JHU has also pushed the government to take a stronger line with Tamil Tiger rebels, with new violence killing more than 700 people so far this year. Some analysts say that has given President Mahinda Rajapakse little room for manoeuvre and made it more difficult to avert civil war.

The JHU was also instrumental in April in changing a law dictating the country's international time.

The latest bill will ban tobacco or alcohol advertising, with a penalty of up to two million rupees (,000). Sale of tobacco and alcohol in public places or to under-21s will also be punishable by fines.

The previous age limit for smoking and drinking was 16.

One of Sri Lanka's largest breweries said the law would only help the illicit brewing industry. The industry says 627 million litres of illegal beverages were sold in Sri Lanka in 2004 against 100 million litres of legal alcohol.

Poorly-made illicit spirits kill hundreds of Sri Lankans every year, officials say.

''There are more illicit liquor places than legal liquor shops,'' said Pradeep Mohan, research manager at Lanka Brewery Ltd. ''When there are bans on advertising it will increase the illicit liquor industry.'' Tobacco importer Ceylon Tobacco said it only advertised inside shops and had already imposed a voluntary ban on sales to under-18s, but would not comment on the financial implications for the firm of raising the legal smoking age.


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