Tobacco display ban to take effect in two weeks as one-year grace period comes to an end

Cigarette packets displayed on a shelf behind the counter in a minimart in Toa Payoh North.
Cigarette packets displayed on a shelf behind the counter in a minimart in Toa Payoh North. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In two weeks, tobacco products sold at places like convenience stores, supermarkets and coffeeshops will have to be kept out of sight, as a display ban takes effect after a one-year grace period comes to a close.

The ban, which kicks in on Aug 1, applies to general retailers. They will not be allowed to display tobacco products at the point of sale within direct line of sight of the public, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement on Tuesday (July 18). Such products include cigarettes, cigars, beedies and "ang hoon", or loose tobacco leaves.

Instead, they could keep them in plain, undecorated storage devices, according to guidelines. Existing display cabinets can still be used, but should be modified such that it is fixed in one place, self-closing and opaque. Furthermore, a text-only price list based on a prescribed template may only be shown to customers at their request.

For specialist tobacco sellers, however, the ban will not apply within the shop and tobacco products may be displayed within the store, as long as they are not visible from outside it.

The amended Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act banning this display was passed in Parliament in March last year (2016). Sellers had one year to comply with the requirements since last July (2016).

Other than reducing the products' exposure to non-smokers, including teenagers, the ban also aims to help smokers quit by discouraging impulse purchases.

Mr Chen Wen Zhang, 50, owner of minimart chain An Hua Holdings, said three of his outlets that are licensed to sell cigarettes had opaque doors installed in front of the display cabinets two months ago (May).

There has not been any noticeable drop in cigarette sales - one of the concerns flagged when the regulation was announced - since the installation, he said.

"Smokers would already have known about the ban. Many people still smoke because there are still many places selling cigarettes and it's convenient to buy them, not really because they want to smoke after seeing them on sale."

Retailers who contravene the ban shall be liable upon first conviction to a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both. For subsequent convictions, they will be liable to a fine of up $20,000 or to imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

Members of public who wish to report errant retailers can call 6684-2037 or 6684-2036 to reach the HSA Tobacco Regulation Branch during office hours.