Tobacco display ban will affect sales, retailers say

Some are unsure whether they can be ready in time for new regulations by end-2017

A ban on the display of tobacco products in stores by the end of 2017 would hit their business, say tobacco retailers here.

While they understand the Government's position and would work with the authorities to ensure the smooth roll-out of the ban, some are unsure if they have enough time to adjust to the rules.

A lead time of at least 18 months would be "ideal", said a spokesman for convenience store chain 7-Eleven. "We are also facing constraints due to tight labour conditions and all retailers will likely be working with the same pool of (renovation) contractors to prepare for these changes," he added.

A spokesman for supermarket chain Sheng Siong said it is too early to say how much impact the ban would have on revenue.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday that retailers will be given a 12-month grace period to adjust to the new rules after amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act are made by the middle of next year. Under new rules, retailers can provide a standard format text-only price list. But tobacco products such as cigarettes must be kept out of sight except during sales transactions and re-stocking.

Mr Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said most of the 50 retailers who attended a MOH dialogue on Wednesday could air concerns about the ban.

"They have received information about the guidelines and can start preparing for the changes now, which gives them more than a year's notice," he said.

Still, he hopes MOH will be able to extend more help to retailers.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said retailers can consider offsetting compliance costs by implementing productivity improvement solutions supported by the authorities.

SHORT LEAD TIME

We are also facing constraints in terms of limited resources due to tight labour conditions and all retailers will likely be working with the same pool of (renovation) contractors to prepare for these changes.

A 7-ELEVEN SPOKESMAN, who said a lead time of 18 months instead of 12 months would be ideal to prepare for the ban

American tobacco giant Philip Morris Singapore said on its website that it does not support regulation "that imposes unnecessary impediments to the operation of the legitimate tobacco market" and opposes measures like POSD (point- of-sale display) bans.

But doctors were all for the ban.

Dr Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory medicine specialist, called it a "first step" that would decrease the availability of tobacco products to the public, especially youth.

Anti-smoking advocate and senior consultant respiratory physician Philip Eng said it will "probably help make access more difficult and deter impulsive buyers".

A study last year found that smoking rates among young people in New South Wales and Queensland in Australia dropped from 15 to 11 per cent between 2010 and 2012 after POSD bans came into force.

Research assistant Diana Lai, 23, who has been trying to quit smoking, has doubts about such a ban. "I feel the urge to smoke when I see others smoking, not when I see cigarette displays," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Tobacco display ban will affect sales, retailers say'. Print Edition | Subscribe