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Ban on display of tobacco products to take effect on Aug 1 as grace period ends

After a one-year grace period, the ban on displaying cigarettes and other tobacco products in stores will take effect on Aug 1, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reminded in a news release on Tuesday (Jul 18).

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/ban-on-display-of-tobacco-products-to-take-effect-on-aug-1-as-9041262

Retailers must keep the tobacco products in plain, undecorated storage devices, and out of customers’ direct line of sight.

“Existing display cabinets can be modified to one that is permanently fixed, self-closing and opaque,” said the ministry. “Alternatively, new storage units that meet the same requirements can also be constructed.”

Laws to ban the display of tobacco products were passed in Parliament last March, under amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Bill. It is part of MOH’s efforts to discourage smoking, particularly among younger people in Singapore.

Under the regulations, the point of sale will remain fixed at the cashier, to reduce the accessibility of cigarettes to youths and non-smokers.

In addition, a text-only price list based on a template prescribed by MOH may be shown to customers only at their request.

Retailers convicted of flouting the ban face a maximum jail term of six months, a fine of up to S$10,000, or both. The penalties are double for repeat offenders.

Curbing teen smoking ‘must go beyond raising minimum age’

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/curbing-teen-smoking-must-go-beyond-raising-minimum-age

Teens below the age of 18 have been barred from smoking legally since 1993 – but the data two decades later tells a different story.

In 2013, the average age when smokers took their first puff was just 16, according to the National Health Surveillance Survey.

Said Mr Vincent Tng, 21, a non-smoker serving full-time national service: “I have friends who started smoking as young as 14 or 15 – they just got their friends to buy cigarettes for them. There are contraband cigarettes around, so you don’t even have to go to a proper shop.”

Experts said the discrepancy shows that efforts to curb teen smoking must go beyond raising the minimum legal age. Issues such as raising awareness and enforcement cannot be sidelined.

Said Sata CommHealth chief executive and anti-smoking advocate K. Thomas Abraham: “We should have a slew of measures that go concurrently with raising the minimum age. How are these young people able to get cigarettes? How do we plug the existing loopholes?”

Last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it plans to raise the minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21. In Singapore, these are the years when nearly half of smokers become regular smokers. The idea is to put cigarettes out of the reach of underage smokers, who tend to obtain them through their social circles.

A town in the United States known as Needham is often held up as a success story of how this measure can reduce smoking rates.

In 2005, it increased the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Smoking rates among under-18s dropped by nearly half within five years – from 13 per cent in 2006 to 7 per cent in 2010. At least 215 other locales in the US have followed suit in recent years, including New York City, Boston and California.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: “I don’t think that in itself will be enough… but raising the age would help interdict further access to cigarettes amongst the young.”

To complement the move, experts suggested increasing the size of graphic health warnings on cigarette packets, introducing plain packaging to make cigarettes look as nondescript as possible and even raising the tobacco tax.

According to the World Health Organisation, increasing tobacco prices in high-income countries by 10 per cent is estimated to reduce consumption by 4 per cent, said Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

Tobacco taxes were last raised in 2014, from $352 per kg to S$388 per kg of tobacco, or 1,000 cigarettes.(+import tax + GST) It was reported that out of the $12 (HKD66) for an average pack of cigarettes, $8.50 (HKD 47) goes to the Government as tax.

Prof Chia said tobacco taxes should be raised further if smoking remains a serious issue, even after the age limit is raised.

At the same time, said Dr Abraham, even more work needs to be done to drive home the anti-smoking message among young people, as “the long-term effects of smoking are not always immediately apparent to a young smoker”.

Nee Soon MP Louis Ng, who used to smoke, said enforcement needs to be stepped up to ensure cigarettes are not sold to underage teens, and more has to be done to change the image of smoking.

“They think it’s cool to smoke and we need to tackle that mindset with a series of public awareness campaigns,” he said.

Management executive Catherine Ruth Jeyaseelan, 34, suggested involving parents too. “Sometimes parents smoke at home and kids will get curious, they might try it when their parents are out.”

Curbing teen smoking ‘must go beyond raising minimum age’

Teens below the age of 18 have been barred from smoking legally since 1993 – but the data two decades later tells a different story.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/curbing-teen-smoking-must-go-beyond-raising-minimum-age

In 2013, the average age when smokers took their first puff was just 16, according to the National Health Surveillance Survey.

Said Mr Vincent Tng, 21, a non-smoker serving full-time national service: “I have friends who started smoking as young as 14 or 15 – they just got their friends to buy cigarettes for them. There are contraband cigarettes around, so you don’t even have to go to a proper shop.”

Experts said the discrepancy shows that efforts to curb teen smoking must go beyond raising the minimum legal age. Issues such as raising awareness and enforcement cannot be sidelined.

Said Sata CommHealth chief executive and anti-smoking advocate K. Thomas Abraham: “We should have a slew of measures that go concurrently with raising the minimum age. How are these young people able to get cigarettes? How do we plug the existing loopholes?”

Last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it plans to raise the minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21. In Singapore, these are the years when nearly half of smokers become regular smokers. The idea is to put cigarettes out of the reach of underage smokers, who tend to obtain them through their social circles.

A town in the United States known as Needham is often held up as a success story of how this measure can reduce smoking rates.

In 2005, it increased the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Smoking rates among under-18s dropped by nearly half within five years – from 13 per cent in 2006 to 7 per cent in 2010. At least 215 other locales in the US have followed suit in recent years, including New York City, Boston and California.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: “I don’t think that in itself will be enough… but raising the age would help interdict further access to cigarettes amongst the young.”

To complement the move, experts suggested increasing the size of graphic health warnings on cigarette packets, introducing plain packaging to make cigarettes look as nondescript as possible and even raising the tobacco tax.

According to the World Health Organisation, increasing tobacco prices in high-income countries by 10 per cent is estimated to reduce consumption by 4 per cent, said Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

Tobacco taxes were last raised in 2014, from $352 per kg to $388 per kg of tobacco, or 1,000 cigarettes. It was reported that out of the $12 for an average pack of cigarettes, $8.50 goes to the Government as tax.

Prof Chia said tobacco taxes should be raised further if smoking remains a serious issue, even after the age limit is raised.

At the same time, said Dr Abraham, even more work needs to be done to drive home the anti-smoking message among young people, as “the long-term effects of smoking are not always immediately apparent to a young smoker”.

Nee Soon MP Louis Ng, who used to smoke, said enforcement needs to be stepped up to ensure cigarettes are not sold to underage teens, and more has to be done to change the image of smoking.

“They think it’s cool to smoke and we need to tackle that mindset with a series of public awareness campaigns,” he said.

Management executive Catherine Ruth Jeyaseelan, 34, suggested involving parents too. “Sometimes parents smoke at home and kids will get curious, they might try it when their parents are out.”

Commentary: Smoking is an archaic habit with no place in modern society

The move to raise the legal age for smoking gives a much needed boost to Singapore’s efforts at reducing the prevalence of smoking among youths.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/commentary-smoking-is-an-archaic-habit-with-no-place-in-modern/3584938.html

Shocking as it sounds, many doctors used to smoke.

The groundbreaking study which first confirmed the link between smoking and lung cancer was carried out on British doctors in the early 1950s. UK Medical Research Council member Sir Richard Doll, who conducted the study chose doctors as his research participants because many of them smoked, and it would be easier to observe what happened to them as a result of smoking.

Within three years of observation, 37 died from lung cancer. All were smokers. The number of deaths rose to 70 after five years. His work provided strong evidence of the dangers of smoking and laid the groundwork for future public debates about smoking

Since then, governments around the world have put in place policies and programmes to stop people from picking up the habit and help smokers kick theirs. For instance, the United States introduced the tobacco advertising ban and tax in the 1960s.

Singapore became the first Asian country to ban tobacco advertising in 1971, followed by the banning of smoking in various public places. The Singapore Government has also dramatically increased the excise tax on tobacco since 1983.

The impact of such combination of measures was visibly evident. The proportion of smokers among male Singaporeans aged 18 and above declined from 42 per cent in the late 1970s to 24.3 per cent in 2010, and the per capita consumption of tobacco decreased from 2.36 kilograms to 0.77 kilograms in a short span of 30 years. The incidence of lung cancer also halved from around 60 per 100,000 in the 1980s to 30 per 100,000 today.

Nonetheless, the decline in the proportion of smokers has since hit a plateau over the last ten years, hovering around 23 to 24 per cent in males, and 3.5 to 4 per cent in females, and has not budged since. What this effectively means is that the number of new smokers now equal those who have died from or quit the habit. To lower the proportion of smokers, more aggressive efforts will be required to prevent Singaporeans from picking up the habit.

WILL RAISING THE MINIMUM LEGAL AGE REALLY HELP STEM THE HABIT OF SMOKING?

Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor, announced recently on Thursday that the legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products will be raised from 18 to 21.

This will be a much needed boost to Singapore’s efforts at reducing the prevalence of smoking among youths.

Raising the minimum legal age (MLA) makes it harder for them to get tobacco products either directly or through their social networks. More importantly, it contributes toward de-normalising smoking.

95 per cent of smokers in Singapore had their first puff before age 21. Increasing the legal smoking age to 21 reduces youth exposure to tobacco products during their adolescence – a critical stage of life where they are more susceptible to peer pressure, where their psycho-social maturity, including sensation seeking, impulsivity, and future perspective taking, are still not fully developed.

Detractors may question the rationale for raising the MLA.

Some critics argue that raising the legal smoking age is simply delaying initiation into the habit. But the fact is that those who do not pick up smoking by age 21 are unlikely to ever begin. There is evidence that the younger the adolescent is when he starts smoking, the higher the level of nicotine dependence, and the greater the probability of him becoming a long-term, heavy smoker.

Others may make invidious comparisons. After all, if an 18 to 20 year old can legally marry, drive, consume alcohol or serve national service, why is he not allowed to smoke?

Tobacco smoking is clearly very different from and far outweighs the aforementioned activities when it comes to fatalities. It is deliberately designed to be addictive and is known to cause disease and disabilities in both the smokers, as well as those breathing in secondhand smoke. There is no moderate level of consumption at which tobacco smoking is safe – for the smoker and those around him. It is a unique product that kills its user when used as instructed.

Another objection is that raising the MLA may lead to the emergence of a black market peddling tobacco products to underage smokers. To deal with that, law enforcement efforts can be intensified, and harsher penalties imposed on the sellers. For instance, New York City stepped up its enforcement and increased penalties for supply of illegal tobacco products when it raised the MLA.

Of course, even with these efforts, it is impossible to entirely curtail a black market. However, future generations of youths will be discouraged from smoking, disease will be averted and lives saved albeit with this negative “side effect”.

ADOPT AN APPROACH THAT IS SYMPATHETIC, EDUCATIONAL AND SUPPORTIVE

In meting out consequences for underage smokers, we ought to bear in mind that they too are victims of Big Tobacco advertising strategies directed at the aspirations of impressionable youth.

Our best defence would be to adopt an approach that is sympathetic, educational and supportive of their efforts to quit the habit. To successfully curb smoking initiation in our youths, we would do well to ensure adequate enforcement of the MLA on retailers who sell tobacco to minors.

The debate over the Government’s move to raise the minimum legal age is a reminder that no single silver bullet to reduce smoking prevalence exists. The MLA is only but one of the existing and additional future measures for effective tobacco control. Singapore has banned electronic cigarettes which tobacco companies intentionally market as “safer” to youths. They also claim that heated cigarettes are safer but studies have shown that they have the same nicotine content as traditional cigarettes.

There are other measures that we can consider in the fight against smoking. First, there is evidence that increasing the size of graphic health warnings (GHW) on the cigarette packaging prevents youth smoking initiation, boosts motivation to quit, reduces smoking among adults and sustains smoking cessation. Expanding the size of the GHW is a highly cost-effective control measure that we should consider implementing.

Second, several countries like Australia, France and UK have augmented their GHW with standardised packaging. Also known as “plain packaging”, this requirement removes all branding elements such as colour, image, trademarks, logos and text, and only allows the brand name to be printed in a standardised font, size and location on the pack. This reduces the appeal of the pack, weakens any branding power each product might have, and strengthens the impact of the GHW.

Australia was the first nation in the world to adopt plain packaging in 2012. Even though the health impact of the policy will take years to be fully seen, a post–implementation review published in February 2016 reported that the policy has reduced smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke, and is expected to continue doing so.

Third, price and taxes are effective tools for tobacco control. According to the World Health Organisation, a 10 per cent increase in tobacco prices will reduce consumption by about 4 per cent in high-income countries. We should raise tobacco taxes further as part of our suite of enhanced control measures, if we think that smoking remains a serious issue even after the MLA has been raised.

Last, internationally, there is a movement to go beyond conventional tobacco control strategies and adopt fundamentally different strategies that aim to eliminate smoking altogether. These are broadly classified as “Endgame Strategies”. Singapore should begin thinking about eliminating smoking completely. We would not be the first country to endorse and adopt this approach. New Zealand, Finland, Canada, Sweden and France have all endorsed the goal of achieving a smoke-free society in the next eight to 23 years.

Smoking was introduced commercially in the 1880s. It is an ancient and archaic habit, and has no place in our modern and progressive society.

Professor Chia Kee Seng is Dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

Health Ministry plans smoking ban for persons under 21

The Ministry of Health will propose legislation to ban persons under 21 years of age from buying, using and possessing tobacco products, The Straits Times reported.

http://www.tobaccojournal.com/Health_Ministry_plans_smoking_ban_for_persons_under_21.54139.0.html

The ministry plans to table a proposal within a year that calls for a phased in ban, the newspaper said on its website. The current legal smoking age is 18. Similar laws have been adopted in Sri Lanka and some parts of the United States, according to Straits Times.

Legal age for smoking to be raised to 21

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/minimum-legal-age-for-sale-of-tobacco-products-to-be-raised-to/3580594.html

The legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products in Singapore will be raised from 18 to 21, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 9).

“We want to protect our young from the harms of tobacco, and lay the foundation for good health,” she said.

The restrictions, which will be phased in over the next few years, will cover the retail and social supply to minors; and the purchase, use and possession of tobacco products by minors, the Ministry of Health said.

Dr Khor said that in Singapore, 45 per cent of smokers become regular ones between the ages of 18 and 21. Research has also shown that adolescent brains have a heightened sensitivity to the effects of nicotine, with a World Health Organization (WHO) report stating that people who do not start smoking before the age of 21 “are unlikely to ever begin”, she added.

She also noted the Health Promotion Board conducted public consultation on further tobacco control measures between December 2015 and March 2016, and feedback showed “considerable support” for raising the minimum legal age for smoking in Singapore.

As such, to further de-normalise tobacco use and reduce the number of youths from picking up the habit, the ministry will propose legislative changes to Parliament within a year to raise the minimum legal age to sell tobacco products to minors from the ages of 18 to 21, Dr Khor said.

Dr Khor also gave an update on standardising tobacco packaging, saying the ministry had studied closely the experience of Australia, France and the United Kingdom as countries that had implemented this.

“(We) see significant value in moving in this direction, so as to reduce the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to youths, and raise the visibility and effectiveness of health warnings,” she said.

“We will conduct a further public consultation on standardised packaging this year to seek additional and more detailed views on possible standardised packaging measures,” Dr Khor added.

Responding to the decision, the Tobacco Association of Singapore highlighted various concerns on how this would be implemented by licensed tobacco retailers “in a practical manner” and whether the regulation would be enforced for non-Singaporean visitors.

It also raised the issue of whether retailers facing manpower issues would face restrictions in hiring workers between the ages of 18 and 20 as a result.

The association added that it welcomed the opportunity to provide further input in the second round of public consultation on the proposal for standardised packaging.

Ban on flavoured tobacco products will hurt business: Retailers

Retailers have strongly objected to a proposal to ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes, as it could hit their businesses hard.

http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/ban-flavoured-tobacco-products-will-hurt-business-retailers-0

A survey of 1,475 independent general trade retailers by a group of trade associations — such as the Foochow Coffee Restaurant & Bar Merchants Association and Singapore Mini Mart Association — found that 99 per cent of the respondents stated that such a prohibition would negatively affect their business, while 97 per cent were concerned that the move could lead adult smokers to turn to illegal sources.

The proposed ban was among a suite of tobacco-control measures — which also included raising the minimum legal age for smoking and enhancing graphic health warnings — put up for public consultation early this year by the Health Promotion Board, the Ministry of Health, and the Health Sciences Authority.

Pointing to how some stores had closed after they were badly affected by the new liquor laws, which started last year, Mr Hong Poh Hin, who chairs the Foochow Coffee Restaurant & Bar Merchants Association, said: “It is important to ensure any proposed tobacco-control measures are supported by evidence of effectiveness in reducing smoking incidence in Singapore, while addressing the impact on the affected retailers.”

“Our members, many of which are small- and medium-enterprises, have been bearing the brunt of escalating operating costs, manpower constraints and a flurry of increasing regulations that directly impacted their biggest sources of income,” he added.

Among other things, the new laws bar supermarkets and convenience stalls from selling takeaway alcohol from 10.30pm to 7am.

“We fear that such recurrent regulations will lead many more to shut down their businesses. This prompted our associations to launch this (survey),” Mr Hong added.

Other associations involved in the survey were Kheng Keow Coffee Merchants Restaurant and Bar-Owners Association, and Singapore Provision Shop Friendly Association.

Ninety-eight per cent of those surveyed said almost half of their customers who buy tobacco products only request the flavoured variants. The survey, which was conducted between July and September, also uncovered concerns that adult smokers would turn to illegal sources to have a puff.

Noting that the illicit cigarette trade is “substantial” here, Singapore Mini Mart Association chair Alan Tay said: “These illegal activities have a huge adverse impact on legitimate traders like us, that operate within the parameters of the law.”

The trade associations are also in the midst of another study on the efficacy and impact on trade of the proposed ban on flavoured tobacco products, and plan to share its results with the Government. KELLY NG

SCORECARD LAUNCHED ON FCTC IMPLEMENTATION IN THE ASEAN REGION

Singapore leads the way in a 10-country race in the ASEAN to protect public health from the harms of tobacco use according to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Scorecard launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

In a region where nearly half of all adult men smoke and where 10% (125 million) of the world’s smokers live, it is indeed a race to reverse the smoking epidemic and its devastating impacts that claims about 500,000 deaths every year.

“The scorecard acknowledges achievements and progressive efforts of ASEAN governments while also identifying implementation gaps that need further action. It also encourages comparisons between countries to further motivate the strengthening of FCTC implementation. Overall, there is significant room for further progress,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, SEATCA FCTC Program Director.

Over-all, Singapore scored the highest (80.5%), followed by Brunei (71.2%) and Thailand (67.1%). Two key areas for improvement are in policies on tobacco taxation and protecting health policies from tobacco industry interference.

While raising tobacco taxes is recognized as among the most effective means of reducing consumption, this measure is the least well implemented among ASEAN countries. The region’s most expensive cigarettes are found in Brunei and Singapore, but cigarettes are still generally very affordable in all countries.

Most countries are experiencing tobacco industry interference and do not have a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct to address this problem. Only Singapore has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that is enforced by the whole government, while the Philippines has a FCTC Article 5.3 policy or code of conduct that applies to the whole government but needs improved enforcement.

Enforcement of smoke-free policies needs to be strengthened further to achieve the full health benefits of such policies. All countries restrict or ban smoking in many settings, but only Brunei enforces a smoking ban in all indoor workplaces, indoor public places, and public transport, as well as some outdoor public places.

While standardized packaging of tobacco or ‘plain packaging’ is widely regarded as the best way to package tobacco, no ASEAN country has yet implemented this measure.

All countries, however, require pictorial health warnings on packages, although some require them only for cigarettes and not for other (e.g. smokeless) tobacco products.

Thailand leads with the largest pictorial health warnings (85% front and back).

All ASEAN countries except Indonesia, a non-party to the FCTC, enforce a complete ban on tobacco advertising in print media, TV, radio, and cinema. Regrettably, only half of the ASEAN countries (Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) enforce a ban on tobacco advertising at points of sale (POS).

The scorecard is available at www.seatca.org.

Desensitisation to cigarette package graphic health warnings

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Full ban on shisha, emerging tobacco products in S’pore from Aug 1

SINGAPORE — The ban on shisha will kick in on Monday (Aug 1) after the end of a grace period.

http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/full-ban-shisha-emerging-tobacco-products-spore-aug-1

Licensed tobacco importers and retailers who import or sell shisha tobacco will be prohibited from importing, wholesaling or selling tobacco, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Sciences Authority announced in a joint statement on Thursday (July 28).

Although it was banned since Nov 28, 2014, shisha tobacco importers and retailers were given a grace period until July 31, 2016 to allow them to restructure their businesses and deplete their existing stock.

The ban on shisha tobacco is part of a larger suite of measures to reduce tobacco consumption.

Also coming into force on Monday is the second phase of the ban on on emerging tobacco products available in Singapore, including nasal snuff, oral snuff, gutkha, kaini and zarda.

In June last year, the MOH announced the first phase of the ban on emerging tobacco products not already available in Singapore. The ban was put into effect on Dec 15, 2015, and prohibited products such as smokeless cigars, dissolvable tobacco or nicotine, topically applied tobacco, and any solution with tobacco or nicotine that could be used with e-cigarettes.

All licensed tobacco importers, wholesalers and retailers will therefore be prohibited from importing, wholesaling or retailing all forms of emerging tobacco products.

Anyone who flouts the bans on emerging smoking products and shisha could be jailed up to six months and/or fined up to S$10,000. Those with a prior conviction could be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$20,000.

As part of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act (TCASA), there will also be a ban on the point-of-sale display of tobacco products. This will take effect on Aug 1, 2017 as retailers have a one-year grace period.

The existing ban on advertisements for tobacco products will also be extended to cover advertising for e-cigarettes and similar products. The ban on advertising for tobacco products, e-cigarettes and similar products will include advertisements published electronically. This covers advertisements and sales promotions originating from Singapore and those from outside of Singapore that can be accessed by people in Singapore.

Customer loyalty programmes and promotional schemes involving tobacco products are also not allowed.

Members of the public with information on retailers and importers contravening the ban may call the authorities’ reporting line at 6684-2036 or 6884-2037 during office hours.