Bangkok, 14 February 2019: According to the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), the Singapore Parliament’s approval of amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, which will require all tobacco products to be sold in standardized packaging with enlarged graphic health warnings, will reduce the appeal of smoking and help save lives.
Once implemented, all tobacco products in Singapore will be packaged in a standardized size, shape, and drab brown color, free of any logos or images; only brand names will be allowed in a standardized font type, size, color, and location. The current 50% size of graphic health warnings will also be increased to 75% of the package surface.
“We welcome this milestone in tobacco control and urge other ASEAN countries to follow the lead of Singapore and Thailand,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA, referring to Thailand’s Standardized Packaging Regulation, which will take effect on 10 September 2019. In 2016, Malaysia had announced plans to implement plain packaging but did not proceed due to pressure from the tobacco industry.
Plain or standardized packaging is considered the global standard for packaging tobacco products. In 2012, Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging. Since then, at least twelve other countries, namely, France, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Uruguay, Slovenia, Mauritius, Turkey, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, have also introduced plain packaging laws, and at least 15 other jurisdictions are formally considering the same.
Standardized packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, increases the effectiveness of graphic health warnings, and reduces the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers about tobacco’s many harmful effects.
One year post-implementation in Australia, a national survey among adult smokers found that more smokers noticed graphic health warnings and attributed their motivation to quit to the warnings, while another study showed sustained reduction in visible smoking, suggesting that plain packaging may be changing norms about smoking in public.
Acknowledging the effectiveness of plain packaging to reduce smoking, the tobacco industry reacted by suing Australia, France, the UK, and the EU, but failed in all its legal challenges. In June 2018, a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel upheld Australia’s plain packaging law as being consistent with international trade and intellectual property laws.
“The tobacco industry has a history of using the threat of legal challenges to intimidate governments, particularly in low and middle-income countries that have limited resources to fight the industry in court, but these latest developments in Singapore and Thailand and the WTO ruling in favor of Australia should encourage more countries to adopt and implement this life-saving measure contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” said Dorotheo.
Articles 11 (Packaging and labelling) and 13 (Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) of the FCTC recommend that Parties should consider adopting plain packaging to eliminate advertising or promotion, including design features that make tobacco products attractive.
- Bill to enforce plain packaging for tobacco products passed in Parliament – https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/plain-packaging-for-tobacco-cigarettes-bill-passed-parliament-11230234
- Parliament: Cigarettes packs to be sold in standardized plain packaging – https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-cigarettes-packs-to-be-sold-in-standardised-plain-packaging
- Standardized or Plain Packaging: Scientific Evidence – https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/global/pdfs/en/plain_packaging_evidence_en.pdf
- Plain packaging of tobacco products: evidence, design and implementation – http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/207478/9789241565226_eng.pdf?sequence=1
- Standardized or plain packaging: international developments – https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/global/pdfs/en/standardized_packaging_developments_en.pdf
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.