SINGAPORE - Cigarette packs sold here will soon have standardised plain packaging with larger health warnings, after laws requiring this were passed in Parliament on Monday (Feb 11).
Cigarette packaging will not be allowed to show logos, colours, images or other promotional information associated with the tobacco brand. Product and brand names will be allowed in a standardised font style and colour.
The minimum size of graphic health warnings depicting the ill effects of smoking, such as gum disease, will also be increased to 75 per cent of the packaging surface, up from 50 per cent.
These changes under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill are intended to discourage non-smokers from picking up smoking, urge existing smokers to quit and encourage Singaporeans in general to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle, said Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong.
"Cigarette packs serve as a 'five-second commercial' whenever the pack is drawn from the shelf or one's pocket, held in the palm of a hand, or placed in full view on the table," Mr Tong noted.
"Evidence suggests that the appeal of branded packaging also acts as one of the factors encouraging children and young adults to experiment with tobacco, and to establish and thereafter continue a habit of smoking."
Mr Tong cited the success of anti-smoking measures taken in other countries like Australia and France, which included the introduction of standardised packaging.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it will soon announce more details on the new rules, including the specifications of the packaging standards and when they will be introduced.
The Bill also raises the maximum fine for the unlicensed import, distribution, possession and sale of tobacco products from $5,000 to $10,000 for first-time offenders, and from $10,000 to $20,000 for repeat offenders.
Seven MPs sought clarifications on the new requirements and raised concerns about their potential negative effects during the debate.
Dr Chia Shi Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if standardised packaging would lead to consumers choosing cheaper tobacco products due to lower product differentiation, thus leading to an overall increase in smoking rates - a phenomenon known as "down-trading".
He also wanted to know if the measure could prompt an increase in counterfeit products.
Mr Tong said that down-trading had been observed in Australia before standardised packaging was introduced.
The impact of standardised packaging is likely to be modest, he said, adding that policy measures to make low-price brands less affordable, such as raising taxes, can be taken.
Mr Tong also said that most illicit tobacco products in Singapore are genuine but duty-unpaid cigarettes, not counterfeits.
He added that there is no evidence to show that buyers on the black market will choose counterfeits in standardised packaging over genuine contraband cigarettes.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked how the requirements would be enforced and suggested that MOH introduce a separate body for doing so, similar to Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Enforcement Committee.
Mr Tong said the enforcement of tobacco control laws falls under Singapore's Health Sciences Authority and is done at the importer, manufacturer and distributor levels. The existing regulatory regime is adequate, he added.