Plain packaging, bigger health warning on tobacco products in Singapore soon

Examples of plain cigarette packaging in Canada. (FILE PHOTO: Reuters/Chris Wattie)

There may soon be no more eye-catching branding on cigarette packages in Singapore, as the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Wednesday (31 October) that it is introducing standardised plain packaging for all tobacco products.

In addition, the size of graphic health warnings on tobacco products will be enlarged from 50 per cent of each packet to at least 75 per cent.

These measures will apply to all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars, beedies (thin cigarettes wrapped in a leaf), ang hoon (loose tobacco leaves) and other roll-your-own tobacco products.

MOH will be proposing these changes to current laws early next year. If enacted, the new measures could take effect from 2020.

Efforts to discourage smoking in Singapore

These new measures are part of MOH’s efforts to discourage smoking and achieve sustained declines in the overall smoking rates, in particular the male smoking rate.

More than 2,000 Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each year. Since 2004, there has been no clear pattern of sustained decline in daily smoking prevalence. More worryingly for MOH, more than one in five adult men still smoke daily – a male smoking rate which is higher than countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.

After conducting public consultations and studies from 2015 to June this year, MOH has come up with a proposal for a standardised layout for tobacco products. All logos, colours, brand images and promotional information will be removed, as the products will be sold only in a standardised colour and a matte finish. The size, shape and material of all retail packages are standardised and open according to a standard format.

Brand names and product names will be allowed, but only in a standard colour and font style. The products must also display mandatory graphic health warnings that must take up at least 75 per cent of the package’s surface.

MOH said that these measures will “contribute to achieving broader tobacco control aims such as discouraging non-smokers from picking up smoking, encouraging smokers to quit, and encouraging Singaporeans to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle, which will lead ultimately to reduced smoking prevalence”.

Plain packaging first introduced in Australia

The plain packaging measure has been introduced in countries such as Australia, France and Britain. Australia was the first country to implement this measure in 2012.

MOH said, “Evidence from numerous studies, including from Australia following the implementation of standardised packaging, demonstrated that standardised packaging reduced the appeal of both the packaging and the product. It is the Government’s assessment that changes in consumption can occur as a result of reducing overall product appeal.”

Singapore has taken multiple steps to curb smoking and the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke. In February, a 10 per cent hike in tobacco excise duty was imposed, resulting in excise duties on cigarettes increasing to 42.7 cents per stick, up from 38.8 cents previously.

In October last year, an existing smoking ban was expanded to outdoor areas of universities, private schools and private-hire cars. Orchard Road will also be transformed into a smoke-free zone by the end of this year.

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