No more misleading labels on tobacco products

One of the new graphic warnings for tobacco packaging.

Come March next year, the packaging of tobacco products can no longer have six descriptions, including "light", "mild" and "low tar", printed on it.

Companies must also implement a new set of graphic health warnings - photos whose use is rotated regularly to maintain the effectiveness of the warnings. The last change was in 2006.

The individual packaging must carry health information, too, instead of tar and nicotine yield levels.

The outer packaging, or carton packaging, must also carry health warnings in text and the new set of graphic warnings, along with notices on age restrictions for sale as well as health information, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) said in a press release yesterday.

Currently, only individual cigarette packs need to include such warnings and labels.

The health information tells consumers about the hazards of smoking, such as how it exposes them to more than 4,000 toxic chemicals, of which at least 60 can cause cancer.

The tighter regulations come in the wake of amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act in July 2010, and at a time when a growing proportion of young people smoke.

According to HPB, the proportion of smokers aged 18 to 29 jumped from 12.3 per cent in 2004 to 16.3 per cent in 2010.

In total, the proportion of smokers rose from 12.6 per cent in 2004 to 14.3 per cent in 2010, said past news reports.

Other changes announced yesterday include requiring cigarillos, or mini cigars, to be sold in packs of 20, instead of the current packs of 10.

HPB said that this is "to discourage smoking experimentation and initiation with the low number of units per pack".

The maximum allowable tar and nicotine yield levels of cigarettes will also be lowered, from 15mg and 1.3mg to 10mg and 1mg, respectively. HPB said this is to benchmark the practice against that of the 27 member countries in the European Union.

"The revised limits are not safety limits", but provide a ceiling to prevent manufacturers from including excessive levels of nicotine and tar, HPB said.

Tobacco companies were informed of the changes yesterday and are given until March 1 next year to implement the changes.

Failure to comply with any of the new measures may lead to a jail term of not more than six months, or a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both.

HPB chief executive Ang Hak Seng said smokers who find it challenging to quit the habit tend to switch to cigarettes with labels such as "mild" or "light", as they believe them to be less dangerous.

"The reality is that smoking kills, regardless of the type of cigarette," said Mr Ang.

Professor David Hammond, a World Health Organization (WHO) adviser for the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, said prohibiting the use of these labels "will help to end this deceptive marketing practice and will bring Singapore in line with international standards".

However, the new rules may not have a significant impact on regular smokers. As polytechnic graduate Derek Chew, 23, said: "If I want to smoke, what's on the box is not going to change my mind."

Bank executive Ken Pan, 29, who does not smoke, said that reducing nicotine levels will lead only to smokers smoking additional sticks.

He said that smoking should be banned entirely, "because it is a health hazard to smokers and the people around them".

For more my paper stories click here.