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Mozambique: Control Stamps Obligatory for Tobacco

Maputo — In an attempt to stamp out contraband, the Mozambican Tax Authority (AT) has banned the production, import and sale of tobacco products that do not carry an official control stamp.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201703200767.html

This measure has been in force since Friday, and was announced by AT chairperson, Amelia Nakhare, when she visited the Maputo factory of British American Tobacco (BAT), where she witnessed the production of packets of cigarettes bearing the stamp. The obligatory use of stamps will also be extended to alcoholic drinks.

According to Nakhare, a study undertaken in 2012, by exports of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), indicated that smuggling and contraband account for about 60 per cent of the alcoholic drinks consumed in Mozambique. (It was not clear how much of the tobacco smoked in Mozambique was contraband).

An earlier study, in 2009, showed that contraband alcohol cost the state about 2.8 million US dollars in lost revenue a year. 66 per cent of the drinks sold on the market came from illicit sources.

Nakhare said that no tobacco products without the stamp may be sold legally. She expected this move “to have a significant impact, not only on revenue, but also on the country’s fiscal organization”.

Jokowi opts to kill tobacco bill

In an about face move that demonstrated stronger support for the country’s public health, the government said on Wednesday that it refused to deliberate the controversial tobacco bill, which seeks to boost cigarette production while dismissing the dangers of smoking.

This is the second time the government has rejected such a proposal from the House of Representatives after the bill was also voided last year following opposition from the Health Ministry to jointly deliberating the bill.

Ending his ambivalence on tobacco, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, whose administration had earlier issued a road map for the industry that sought to triple cigarette production to 524 billion by 2020, made a bold move that puts him against one of the country’s oldest industries and which employs millions of workers.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said Jokowi would not issue a presidential letter (Surpres) to approve the House proposal to start discussion of the bill.

Without the letter, the House cannot begin deliberations because all bills must be both discussed by representatives of the government and the House. If the House does not receive a letter from the government by the given deadline of March 19, the bill will be voided.

“There is no Surpres [to be issued by the President in this case],” Pramono told reporters at the State Palace, adding that the President had instructed Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and State Secretary Pratikno to pay a visit to the House to deliver the government’s stance.

During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Health Minister Nila Moeloek, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri and Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto told Jokowi that if the bill was passed into law then it would contravene a number of prevailing laws handled by the three ministries.

The Health Ministry has long campaigned for stronger tobacco control, which is crucial to saving around 200,000 Indonesians who die every year from tobacco-related illnesses and to save Rp 378 trillion (US$28.35 billion) in economic losses caused by smoking.

In his opening remarks during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Jokowi, however, expressed doubts on the matter, saying that he could understand the concerns raised by the Health Ministry because the government had to take care of the health of its people, but the welfare of those who worked in tobacco industry should also be taken into consideration.

The bill was initially dropped from the 2016 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) by the Health Ministry, which was appointed by Jokowi to lead the discussion at the House.

However, the comeback of Golkar Party politician Setya Novanto as House speaker paved the way for the inclusion of the bill in the 2017 Prolegnas.

Separately, the House Legislation Body (Baleg), which is assigned to deliberate the bill, has reminded the government to be cooperative, arguing that the bill will protect the domestic tobacco industry, while at the same time benefiting local tobacco farmers.

“If the government refuses to discuss the bill, which is the initiative of the House, we will also refuse to deliberate any bills initiated by the government in the future,” Baleg deputy speaker Firman Subagyo of Golkar said on Wednesday.

The politician suspected foreign intervention in pushing the government to kill the bill, as the draft restricted foreign tobacco companies operating in the country.

Firman said the majority of political factions at the House shared the same opinion and thus agreed to continue the deliberation.

Indonesia tobacco bill would fire up output despite health fears

Indonesia’s parliament has proposed a draft law that could lead to a sharp increase in tobacco output in a country that is already a top producer with one of the heaviest rates of smoking in the world.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-indonesia-tobacco-idUKKBN16M1FK

Indonesia’s tobacco industry employs millions of workers and contributes almost 10 percent to government revenues through taxes, but has faced a backlash from the health ministry and anti-smoking organizations.

Health Minister Nila Moeloek said her ministry “definitely” opposes the tobacco bill as it has the responsibility to “safeguard the health of the people”.

The bill, which covers production, distribution and excise taxes, has to be approved by President Joko Widodo.

Indonesia’s industry minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said the government has to assess how the tobacco bill would affect existing regulations for the industry.

Firman Subagyo, the parliament member who initiated the bill, played down health concerns, saying tobacco is a “strategic” commodity that can increase the prosperity of Indonesian farmers and state revenues.

“Health should not be used as an excuse to destroy people’s livelihood,” Subagyo, who comes from Indonesia’s second-biggest political party, Golkar, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Under the draft law, manufacturers of tobacco products have to use locally sourced tobacco for at least 80 percent of their production, while imports of ready-to-use cigarettes may be subject to an excise tax of 200 percent.

‘RATIONAL PRICING’

Abdus Setiawan, a board member at the Indonesia Tobacco Growers’ Association, said he welcomed the draft law as it could help to protect farmers. But an increase in production should be balanced with “rational pricing”, he said.

Indonesia was the world’s fourth-biggest cigarette producer with an output of 269.2 billion sticks in 2015, according to the latest data from research firm Euromonitor International. The market was valued at 231.3 trillion rupiah (£14.20 billion).

Nearly two-thirds of men are smokers in Indonesia, where an average pack of cigarettes costs less than $2.

Major cigarette companies operating in the country include Phillip Morris-controlled PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, Djarum Group and PT Gudang Garam Tbk.

Sampoerna, through its tobacco suppliers, has partnered with about 27,000 tobacco farmers in Indonesia and gets almost three-quarters of its tobacco domestically, said Elvira Lianita, Sampoerna’s head of fiscal affairs and communications.

However, the industry’s total tobacco requirements have outpaced the domestic growth in tobacco output, Lianita said. Restricting access to raw materials through import regulations or taxes would disrupt the “overall economic stability”, she said.

“Partnership programs, not risky restrictions, would be the solution to bridging this gap and increasing farmer prosperity,” she added.

Gudang Garam and Djarum declined to comment.

(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana and Jakarta Newsroom; Editing by Ed Davies and Bill Tarrant)

Indonesia’s Child Tobacco Workers in Peril

In the next week, Indonesian President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo will decide whether to encourage parliament to move forward with a draft tobacco bill aimed at increasing domestic tobacco production. The bill would gut many important existing health regulations, like the requirement that companies include a health warning with a picture on the label of tobacco products.

Those are troubling proposals given that millions of children in Indonesia start smoking each year, and that 40 million more are “passive smokers” from secondhand smoke. The Indonesian Ministry of Health, 17 prominent health organizations, and many others have denounced the measure as an attempt to undermine Indonesia’s already weak tobacco control laws. Jokowi should reject the bill.

But the draft bill is not the only tobacco policy issue awaiting action by the Jokowi administration. Each year in Indonesia, thousands of children, some just 8 years old, work in hazardous conditions producing tobacco that ends up in products marketed and sold by huge Indonesian and multinational tobacco companies.

My colleagues and I published a Human Rights Watch report documenting hazardous child labor on Indonesian tobacco farms last May. Since then, another tobacco season has come and gone, but the child workers behind Indonesia’s tobacco industry remain unprotected.

We interviewed 132 children who worked on tobacco farms in four of Indonesia’s biggest tobacco-producing provinces. We found that child workers are exposed to nicotine and pesticides—toxins that can be especially harmful to children who are still growing and developing. Half the children we interviewed had experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness while they worked. Those symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, which happens when workers handle tobacco plants and absorb nicotine through their skin. Many children said they also mixed and sprayed toxic chemicals on the plants with no protective equipment, and some became violently ill afterward.

The families we interviewed did not intentionally put their children in harm’s way. They were committed to helping their children get an education so they could have a better future.

Indeed, most of the children we interviewed attended school and worked in tobacco farming only outside of school hours.

But direct contact with tobacco in any form is hazardous work for children because of the nicotine in the leaves. Most of the families we spoke with had never received comprehensive information about the hazards for children of work on tobacco farms, so they did not know the risks to their children.

We urged the Jokowi government to take action to protect children from danger in tobacco fields. We called on the Health Ministry to work with other ministries to develop a public education campaign to raise awareness of the dangers to children of work on tobacco farms. In recent meetings with Human Rights Watch, government officials have said they need additional support and resources to get the campaign underway this year.

Indonesia already prohibits children under 18 from work “with harmful chemical substances.” The Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration should explicitly prohibit children from working in direct contact with tobacco in any form and increase labor enforcement efforts to make sure government inspectors check for workers’ safety, especially on small tobacco farms where children might be in danger.

In our meetings with government officials, we have heard many times that the tobacco industry is powerful in Indonesia, and that it is difficult to achieve policy changes the industry opposes. Surely eliminating child labor in tobacco farming is an issue tobacco companies also want to address.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make clear that companies have responsibilities for addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains. We shared our findings with the largest tobacco companies operating in Indonesia—Djarum, Gudang Garam, Philip Morris International (which owns Sampoerna), British American Tobacco (which owns Bentoel), and others. The large multinational tobacco companies have policies to prevent children from doing the most dangerous tasks on tobacco farms, but their policies are not strong enough, and they should do more to monitor for child labor when they buy Indonesian tobacco on the open market through traders.

The largest Indonesian companies—Djarum and Gudang Garam—do not appear to be taking any steps to prevent or address child labor in their supply chains. They have never responded to our many requests for information and meetings, and they do not make any information publicly available about their child labor policies.

These companies should not be profiting off the backs of Indonesian child workers.

Two months from now, the next tobacco-growing season will be underway, and children will be heading to the fields again. The controversy around the draft tobacco bill likely will not be resolved by then. But with decisive action, the Jokowi administration and tobacco companies could take steps to protect children from dangerous work in tobacco fields. Their futures depend on it.

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.”

WHO Letter to HK Government on Tobacco Control Efforts

Download (PDF, 81KB)

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.