Cigarette displays to be banned from next year

Shop owners will not be allowed to keep tobacco products in plain sight from next year, after Parliament approved changes to the law yesterday.

The affected products include cigarettes, cigars, beedis and "ang hoon", or loose tobacco leaves.

The display ban is intended to prevent impulse buys, especially among young people.

Rules on online tobacco advertisements will also be tightened. For example, ads that come from Singapore will be banned, even if they are not targeted at Singaporeans.

"With the expansion of online access, there is increasing use of the Internet for tobacco advertising and commerce," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor in moving the Bill.

She said Singapore should ensure that its curbs on tobacco advertising are comprehensive.

As for the 17 shops that specialise in selling tobacco products, Dr Khor said they would be allowed to display them, as long as the products are not visible from outside the shops.

In response to queries from MPs, she added that duty-free shops at Changi Airport would be exempt from the new rules for now, while those at seaports would have to follow modified rules similar to those for specialist tobacco shops.

MPs welcomed the move, with some like Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) reeling off a string of smoking-related ailments to stress the importance of anti- smoking measures.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) even recounted his own efforts at kicking the habit, recalling how the nicotine withdrawal symptoms made him "a Grouchy Smurf ".

"If there was one thing I remember about the quitting process, it was that I did my very best to avoid places selling cigarettes," he said. "Every time I saw a cigarette packet... my cravings shot up."

Others, such as Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC), called for even stricter measures to curb smoking rates.

Suggestions included raising the minimum legal age for buying cigarettes and increasing the number of designated smoking zones.

It was even suggested that smoking be made illegal for those born after a certain year. This would not disadvantage current smokers, said Dr Tan, who is a medical oncologist by training.

"But over time, there would be fewer smokers and less harm caused by second-hand smoke," he added.

Dr Khor said the Health Ministry has given this proposal much thought, but is not fully convinced of its effectiveness.

"Our concerns are the significant practical difficulties and risks in implementing and enforcing such a ban," she said, adding that it may not even cut smoking rates.

She added that enforcement would be "challenging" and "resource-intensive", and that it would also require laws to penalise people who buy cigarettes for those affected by the ban.

This article was first published on March 15, 2016.
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