Singapore will be first Asian country to require standardized packaging of tobacco products, other countries must follow

Bangkok, 1 November 2018: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) applauds the Singapore Ministry of Health’s plan to introduce plain or standardized packaging with enlarged graphic health warnings for all tobacco products to reduce the appeal of smoking. 

The Ministry of Health announced on 31 October 2018 that it will introduce the new measures in early 2019 as amendments to the Tobacco Control of Advertisements and Sale Act. This means that, once approved, 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 .

The global standard and best practice in packaging tobacco products is now plain or standardized packaging, which is effective in reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products, increasing the effectiveness of graphic health warnings, and reducing the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers about tobacco’s many harmful effects,said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

In 2012, Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging. Since then, eight other countries, namely, France, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Uruguay, and Slovenia, have also introduced plain packaging laws, and at least 16 other jurisdictions are formally considering the same.

In the ASEAN region, Thailand is in advanced stages of preparing plain packaging regulations, while Malaysia had announced plans to follow its neighbors but succumbed to pressure from the tobacco industry and stalled its preparation.

Acknowledging the effectiveness of plain packaging to reduce smoking, the tobacco industry responded by suing Australia, France, the UK, and the EU, but failed in all its legal challenges. Additionally, in June this year, 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 the recent WTO ruling in favor of Australia and this latest announcement by Singapore should encourage more countries to adopt and implement this life-saving measure contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” said Dorotheo.  

Studies done in Australia show that plain packaging works. A national survey measuring Australian smokers’ responses one year post-implementation found that more adult smokers noticed graphic health warnings and attributed their motivation to quit to the warnings. A year after implementation, another study showed sustained reduction in visible smoking. The sustained reduction suggests that plain packaging may be changing norms about smoking in public.

Articles 11 (Packaging and labelling) and 13 (Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) of the WHO FCTC recommend that Parties should consider adopting plain packaging to eliminate advertising or promotion, including design features that make products attractive.


Wendell C Balderas, Media and Communications Manager – SEATCA

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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.