At least one major retail chain has begun preparations to comply with a new tobacco display ban that kicks in next year.
NTUC FairPrice yesterday unveiled an opaque cigarette dispensing machine, which will be piloted at its FairPrice Xpress outlet in Peace Centre for three months.
If successful, the machines will be rolled out in phases at selected FairPrice and Cheers convenience stores, replacing behind-the-counter cigarette displays. The target for the first phase is 20 to 30 machines by the end of the year.
Customers specify the brand and type of cigarettes they want to the cashier, who prints out a ticket and scans it at the machine, which dispenses the cigarette pack. Each dispenser can hold up to 80 varieties of cigarettes, and 20 packs of each variety.
Said FairPrice chief executive officer Seah Kian Peng: "FairPrice supports the Government's efforts in protecting the health of Singaporeans. This pilot system is an industry first in Singapore that facilitates tobacco sales efficiently without actively promoting the products within."
Outlets without such machines will have their cigarette displays covered by doors to comply with the new regulations.
Parliament on Monday approved a ban on point-of-sale display of tobacco products aimed at preventing impulse buys, especially among young people.
Supermarket chain Sheng Siong, which has 39 outlets, will be adding locks and covers to cigarette display cases by the end of the year. Staff will also be trained to comply with the new regulations.
While tobacco sales are expected to fall by about 10 per cent when the new law kicks in, they currently make up less than 2 per cent of overall sales, a spokesman said.
Other retailers are mulling over their options as they say the new rules will slow checkout queues.
Mr Lek Yong Heng, who runs a mini-mart in Bedok, is considering ceasing the sale of cigarettes altogether.
Said the 67-year-old: "Sales will definitely be dropping, and if we are in a rush and we don't cover properly, we may get in trouble."
Mr Lek said that a better way to prevent young people from taking up smoking would be to raise the minimum age to 21, as "many of them pick it up in camp during national service".
Mr Ng Cheng Hai, 43, who owns a mini-mart in Toa Payoh, said he expects tobacco sales, which currently make up 30 to 35 per cent of overall sales, to fall by about half.
"If they standardise the packs after this, when we are busy, there will most likely be confusion. If we have to use a curtain to cover, it will slow us down by about 10 seconds," he said.