Cigarette sellers expect confusion

A proposal to ban shops from displaying cigarettes for sale will result in a host of problems, said retailers. They expect confusion, longer transaction times and added business costs should the rule kick in.

But most business owners said it is unlikely to affect sales much.

Under the proposed amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, retailers have to keep tobacco products out of patrons' sight, in opaque storage units.

Private psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, an addictions specialist, said the ban will reduce impulse cigarette-buying and, for those trying to quit smoking, reduce the visual cues that entice them to smoke. But it will have no effect on addicts, he added.

The measures are not practical given that shops sell over 100 types of cigarettes, said Mr Hong Poh Hin, vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association.

"Now, customers can point at a cigarette pack and we know where it is," he said. "But if there's a curtain covering the packs and my worker is new, how will they know where to find the correct pack? It's not efficient."

Another amendment to the Act will allow retailers to show text-only price lists of tobacco products, which are currently prohibited as a form of advertisement, upon request.

Mr Alan Tay, the chairman of the Singapore Mini Mart Association, said the authorities should also allow brand logos to be put on the price list. Many mini-mart employees are Chinese-educated and may not be able to match the brand names to the ones on the packs, he said.

"Quarrels are bound to happen when workers sell the wrong pack to customers," he said.

Ms Lilienne Chong, merchandise director at 7-Eleven, said many of its franchisees are small and medium-sized enterprises "already facing a very challenging operating environment".

"While we are fully supportive of the fundamental objectives behind the display ban... business will be affected," she said.

Mr Maurice Perry Lin, 30, who has been trying to quit smoking for seven months, said the measures are not good enough.

"I don't need to see the pack to crave a cigarette. What matters most is the smell," said the assistant manager, who has been smoking since he was 15.

This article was first published on June 27, 2015.
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