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Govt to Consider “Plain Packaging” for Cigarettes to Deter Smoking, Following Footsteps of S’pore, Australia

The bad news for Malaysian smokers continues as the Health Ministry said that the government is considering to introduce “plain packaging” on cigarette boxes, FMT reported today (Feb 13).

Without brand trademarks and designs on the box, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) said the move is proven to be effective to deter smokers from buying them.

Boxes of cigarettes with plain packaging in Sydney, Australia. Source: The Guardian

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the plain packaging is part of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Malaysia is part of the treaty since 2005.

“This has been done in countries like Australia, and the results can be seen,” Dr Lee said.

Source: WHO

WHO published the evidence showing its effectiveness on its website. In peer-reviewed studies conducted in the UK and Ireland, plain packaging is said to be able to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, limit misleading packaging and increase the strength of health warning messages.

Source: CNA

On Monday (Feb 11), our neighbour Singapore just passed an amendment which will start the practice of plain packaging in the nation. It is waiting for a second reading before the final gazettement. The Online Citizen reported that the amendment includes:

  • All logos, colours, brand images and promotional information will be removed from the retail packaging of tobacco products. All permitted information such as brand and product names have to be displayed in a standard colour and font style.
  • The colour, size, shape, opening and finish of the retail packaging will be standardised, together with aspects of the tobacco product’s appearance.
  • The minimum size of mandatory GHWs will be increased from the existing 50% to 75% of the package.
  • The import, distribution, sale, offer for sale or possession for sale of non-compliant tobacco products in Singapore is an offence.

During the debate of the bill, CNA reported that there are several concerned raised by the Singaporean Members of Parliament. One MP asked if the move would become an invitation to more counterfeit tobacco products flooding the country as well as triggering a down-trading phenomenon. Down-trading describes a market where its consumers would opt for a cheaper product, affecting the sales of higher priced products.

To that, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said most Singapore’s illicit cigarettes are genuine but have just evaded tax.

6,000 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes were uncovered in a prime mover on Friday (May 18) at Tuas Checkpoint. Source: CNA

“Due to the relatively small Singapore market for cigarettes, counterfeit cigarette manufacturers are not incentivised to counterfeit cigarettes for sale in Singapore,” he said, adding earlier that it is important to consider the local context.

As for down-trading, Tong said the effect would be modest and if it does happen, the government would introduce tobacco taxes to moderate the lower-priced cigarettes.

It is reported that 12-14% of Singaporeans smoke in recent years, compared to 1.4% in 2004 which was dropped from 23% in 1977. The amendment is a much-needed effort to deter Singaporeans from smoking.

Source: CNA

Meanwhile in Malaysia, The Guardian reported that over 27,200 Malaysians die every year due to smoking. Dr Lee said the ministry will conduct studies before pushing for the legislation.

“They (the industry players and traders) will cite reasons like the cost of the exercise and how it will affect their business or the intellectual property rights of tobacco companies.

“We are considering it. There is no timeline set. We have to study the matter and hold talks with stakeholders,” said the Deputy Health Minister.

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