The Ministry of Health (MOH) continues its campaign against smokers, this time by emulating Australia’s methods of introducing plain packaging cigarette packs. If enacted, Singapore could see the move to minimalist packaging take effect from 2020 onwards.
In a proposal made public yesterday, MOH wants to outlaw all logos, colors, brand images and promotional information on the packaging of tobacco products and replace them with the standardized color of drab dark brown with a matte finish. Brand names will be displayed in a uniform color and font style too, according to MOH’s proposal. At this point, we’d love to propose Comic Sans, a font so reviled that it should be enough to put off people from buying smokes.
Other changes proposed include increasing the size of graphic health warnings from the existing 50 percent to cover 75 percent of all tobacco product packing surfaces in a bid to reduce its noticeability and effectiveness.
“These objectives in turn, separately and together, and in conjunction with other tobacco control measures, 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,” noted MOH in a statement.
Would it be effective?
Cigarette packaging is considered a key marketing strategy for communicating brand image, and removing design elements would definitely face resistance from tobacco companies. In 2012, the American Legislative Exchange Council (backed by tobacco companies) launched a worldwide campaign against plain packaging of cigarettes, but that went pretty much nowhere.
Studies and experiments conducted have also shown that plain packaging can actually change people’s attitudes towards smoking, including lowering the prevalence of the habit among minors and increase attempts to quit. A 2008 study found that smokers would infer that cigarettes from generic brown packs would be less rich in tobacco and be less satisfying. A 2015 paper revealed a significant decline in smoking prevalence in Australia after the introduction of plain packaging.
Boring cigarette packets are one thing, but MOH is pretty adamant in not letting smokers find alternatives to smoking such as e-cigarettes, which are totally banned in Singapore.
“In examining the data it has been striking how closely tied the availability of these substitutes is to plunging smoking rates,” said Harry Shapiro, lead author of a new report that contends that lower-risk alternatives like e-cigarettes and snus have been successful at reducing smoking.
“Whatever the motivation for countries banning them they need to realize that such policies make them the tobacco industry’s best friends.”
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