Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan Lip Fong

(Delivered in Parliament on 11 February 2019)

Mr Speaker, I support the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco. Australia was the first country who introduced plain packaging requirement for tobacco in 2011 though the idea appeared to have originated from New Zealand.

In recent years, quite a few other countries have passed legislation to require plain packaging for tobacco such as New Zealand, France, UK, Ireland, Norway, Slovenia, Canada and Uruguay. Other countries are in the process of doing so. I am glad that Singapore is not far behind in this.

According to studies done, the idea of plain packaging is to prevent or reduce any positive association of branding from the consumption of tobacco. It seems that such positive association of branding may attract young people who are new to smoking, even giving such false sense of glamour associated with certain brands. According to the studies, requiring the use of standard unattractive colours, reducing font sizes for brand name, highlighting or magnifying health warnings are effective in deterring new smokers. MOH’s requirement of health warning by way of graphic images will definitely contributed to the deglamourizing of smoking for the young.

According to reports from Australia, the use of plain packaging seemed to have reduced smoking among young people as people found that the packaging was not attractive. Some even had the impression that cigarettes in plain packaging had tasted worse.
Many people picked up smoking when they were young including during National Service. Together with the recent increase in the legal age for smoking to eventually 21 years, I hope that the introduction of plain packaging will, like in Australia or elsewhere, help to discourage more young people from picking up smoking.

On the other hand, we also read of attempts of tobacco companies in other countries to work around the limitations of plain packaging by for example introducing features to maintain product appeal, even when sold in plain packaging, such as resealable inner foil to preserve freshness and innovative filters. Some have tried to have unique packaging which do not appear to meet the minimum size needed for health information on the side of packs. It seems that these design tweaks are important for tobacco companies as they appeal to young adults and may lead to increased sales.

I also read that in some countries, tobacco companies were given a relatively long time to get rid of their existing stocks and to transit to plain packaging and that some tobacco companies also deliberately stalled on the introduction of plain packaging or were not cooperative. In either of these cases, tobacco companies took the opportunity to maximise the publicity of the outgoing branding and attempted to desensitize smokers to the change in packaging.

In UK, tobacco companies even resorted to price increases after plain packaging.

I would like to ask the minister, given the experience of other countries in introducing plain packaging, what are the Government’s plans to deter tobacco companies from trying to work around the new packaging requirements.

I would also like to know what are the Government’s plans for the tobacco companies and retailers’ transition to the new packaging? How much time would they have? There should be a good balance struck between giving tobacco companies sufficient transition time, but not any longer so that these companies will not have more time to plan their marketing to work around the limitations of the new plain packaging requirements.

I would also like to ask the Government whether the new rules on plain packaging will be inconsistent with the current law practice of allowing people to declare and pay tariffs for cigarettes brought in from a foreign country. Does the Government intend to introduce changes to the law to deal with any inconsistency?

I would also like to know whether and how the new plain packaging requirements will affect tobacco companies in limiting their flexibility in the use of cigarette sizes as a way of product differentiation or to target certain segment such as slim sizes for ladies. Does the Government has any plans to standardize the size of cigarettes being sold?

Mr Speaker, I support the Bill.