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Parliament: Cigarette displays to be banned from 2017

Amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Bill were passed on Monday (14 March) at the sitting of parliament.

Following the changes, retailers will be required by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to use storage devices to keep tobacco products out of the direct line of sight of customers from next year onwards.

In order to do so, retailers may choose to modify their existing storage displays or install new storage units that are permanent and opaque. Retailers could choose to use vertical blinds or a curtain to prevent customers from viewing tobacco products. This ban affects all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, beedies (thin cigarettes wrapped with a leaf), and ang hoon (loose tobacco leaves).

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor stated in Parliament that the aim of the ban was to limit the exposure of non-smokers to tobacco products, and to especially protect youths from "the promotional effect of point-of-sale displays" and to prevent purchases on impulse. She also added that this move would bring about a better environment in stores for smokers who are trying to break the habit. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Thailand and the United Kingdom have benefitted from such a ban, she noted. For instance, research in Australia indicated that percentage of smokers who took notice of tobacco displays fell from 27.1 per cent before the ban to 1.1 per cent of smokers in 2013 after a ban on the displays in Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. A study by Tobacconomics in Iceland also showed similar findings.(view PDF file)

With the ban in place, retailers will be able to use a text-only price list to engage with customers regarding the tobacco products on sale. Retailers will be allowed to publish the price list in each of the four official languages. These price lists are slated to have only the necessary information on the tobacco product, such as the brand, variant, price, barcode and stock number. Dr Khor stated that there should be no pictures or logos present on the price sheet.

Additionally, rules regarding online tobacco advertisements are to be further tightened. This includes a ban on advertisements that come from Singapore even if they are not targeted at Singaporeans, due to the increase in online retailers selling tobacco products.

In response to these changes, many Members of Parliament (MPs) including Dr Fatimah Lateef of Marine Parade GRC and Mr Louis Ng of Nee Soon GRC backed the tightened regulations. Some others sought to see greater measures put in place to deter smoking. MP for Jurong GRC, Dr Tan Wu Meng, hoped for a “tobacco-free generation”, and called for the minimum legal age for smoking to be raised from 18 to 21 years old. This notion was backed by Dr Chia Shi-Lu, MP of Tanjong Pagar GRC.