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Source: MOH.

Singapore to introduce standardised packaging and enlarged graphic health warnings

Following three public consultations and "an extensive process of reviewing and evaluating the available international and local studies, research and evidence" to step up the Government's efforts to create a "tobacco-free Singapore," the Ministry of Health (MOH) is seeking to release and enforce the use of standardised packaging with enlarged graphic health warnings on all tobacco products sold in Singapore by 2020.

"We will apply the SP Proposal to all tobacco products sold in Singapore. These will include cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars, beedies, ang hoon and other roll-your-own tobacco products," said the ministry.

MOH announced in its press statement on Wednesday (31 Oct) that the standardised packaging, currently referred to at this stage as "SP Proposal," will cover 75% of all specified tobacco product packaging surfaces.

All "logos, colours, brand images and promotional information" -- with the exception of "brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style" -- will be obscured by the standardised packaging set by MOH.

The minimum size of the mandatory graphic health warnings from the existing 50% will also be increased to cover 75% of all specified tobacco product packaging surfaces, added the ministry.

Details of the proposed standardised layouts for tobacco products in Singapore. Source: MOH

The ministry stated that the move "follows an extensive process of reviewing and evaluating the available international and local studies, research and evidence on the SP Proposal, as well as several rounds of public consultations."

Subsequently, the MOH has expressed its confidence that the SP Proposal will greatly assist the Government in achieving the following "five public health objectives" related to reducing tobacco usage amongst Singaporeans:

  • Reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products;
  • Eliminating the effects of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion;
  • Reducing the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead about the harmful effects of smoking (including on the relative harmful effects between products);
  • Increasing the noticeability and effectiveness of graphic health warnings; and;
  • Informing smokers and non-smokers of the risks associated with tobacco use in a more effective way.

"Male smoking rate" becomes focal point in anti-tobacco initiatives; efforts need to be amped up "to achieve sustained declines" in overall smoking rates

Tobacco use is a major cause of ill-health and death in Singapore, according to the ministry, with "more than 2,000 Singaporeans" dying "prematurely from smoking-related diseases annually."

MOH added: "Daily smoking prevalence amongst Singaporeans has been fluctuating since 2004, with no clear pattern of sustained decline.

Of particular concern, there remains a sizable proportion of adult men (more than one in five) who smoke daily. This is higher than the male smoking rates in 13 OECD countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States," warned the ministry.

As a result, MOH stressed that "more needs to be done to achieve sustained declines in the overall smoking rates, and in particular, [the] male smoking rate," as evidenced in the statistics it cited earlier.

The SP Proposal will include in the "comprehensive suite" of tobacco control measures in Singapore, which covers the following:

  • education and raising awareness on the long-term dangers of tobacco usage;
  • imposing heavy taxation on tobacco products;
  • initiating smoking cessation programmes;
  • banning tobacco advertising;
  • banning point-of-sale display and raising the minimum legal age for tobacco consumption to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Singapore, and;
  • meeting the government’s obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act (Cap. 309) will also be proposed by MOH in early 2019 in order to make room for the SP Proposal, on top of other legislative amendments "to preserve the legal position for tobacco-related trademarks under the Trade Marks Act (Cap. 332), and for tobacco-related designs under the Registered Designs Act (Cap. 266)."

The tobacco industry, according to MOH, will be given "sufficient notice" regarding the "finalised specifications" of the SP Proposal, and will be given a "transition period" to "allow a sell-through of old stock" by tobacco manufacturers and retailers, and to overall "ease the burden of implementation" of the proposed new legislation -- should it come into effect -- on the part of the tobacco industry.

A summary of the outcome of the 2018 Public Consultation and MOH’s final assessment of the evidence pertaining to the SP Proposal can be found on MOH’s website.

Standardised packaging on tobacco products modelled on Australia, France, and the United Kingdom: Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor

Last year, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor has hinted at the Government's plans to standardise all packaging on tobacco products in Singapore, following the model adopted by several countries such as Australia, France and the United Kingdom to curb smoking habits amongst their citizens.

Dr Khor said: "We have closely studied the experience of these countries, and 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."

As a result, 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."

"We will carefully review relevant considerations including public health, intellectual property and international law perspectives and ensure that any measures taken are consistent with our domestic law and international obligations," she added.