SINGAPORE, Jan 26 — Little can douse the lure of a cigarette, it would seem.Despite smokers here now having far fewer public places to light up and paying one of the world’s highest prices for their habit, sales of cigarettes still hit a four-year high last year. Each day last year, 6.7 million were lit up, making for 2.44 billion cigarettes sold through the year. It is a 12 per cent rise over 2008’s figure of 2.17 billion sold; in 2005, the figure was 2.09 billion.
The fact that more Singaporeans are smoking is one factor driving the trend: The Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) National Health Surveillance Survey in 2007 — the most recent poll of the smoking rate among people here — found 13.6 per cent of the 7,000 people surveyed were smokers in 2007, up from 12.6 per cent in 2004.
The tobacco industry here also confirmed from its internal surveys that more Singaporeans were smoking.
The proportion of smokers here is, however, still lower than in, say, the United States and Britain, where up to a quarter of the people light up.
Tobacco companies say the growing number of foreigners — the more than one million students and holders of work permits and employment passes here — has also added to the rise in cigarette consumption.
Figures from a survey by cigarette giant British American Tobacco (BAT) among 1,000 workers found that more than a third of them smoke, with the Chinese and Thais making up the bulk of them.
A third factor driving up cigarette sales is the move by more smokers to switch from illegal cigarettes to duty-paid ones.
Figures from Singapore Customs yesterday indicated that the amount of duty collected for 122 million packs of cigarettes came to S$861 million (RM2.09 billion) last year, up from S$763 million in 2008.
Contraband cigarettes were thought to have made up more than 20 per cent of the market, but — if the number of contraband packs found among the 10,000 empty packs collected islandwide is anything to go by — the proportion is now less than that, said the Tobacco Association.
The association, which is made up of tobacco companies BAT, Philip Morris Singapore and Japan Tobacco International, declined to reveal figures.
The increased penalties for lighting up duty-unpaid cigarettes have also played a part to nudge smokers towards “going legit”.
Those caught smoking cigarettes without the “SDPC” (Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette) stamp on them can be fined at least S$500 for each pack found on their person, up from S$200 in 2007.
Public education drives on the health risks of smoking, especially those aimed at younger people, have also helped, as have expanding the list of public places where smoking is banned and raising the tobacco tax.
With the tax now at S$352 for every 1,000 cigarettes imported — up from S$293 in 2005 — a pack of 20 cigarettes now costs almost S$12.
A delicate balance has to be maintained, said Mr Alfred Kwek, the corporate affairs manager of Philip Morris Singapore: Making cigarettes pricey will send smokers into the arms of the smugglers of duty-unpaid cigarettes.
He said it was thus crucial that the price gap between legal and illegal cigarettes not be widened further.
The HPB, which drives anti-smoking efforts here, said it will continue to educate the public and help those keen on quitting the habit.
It has proposed further changes, such as limiting the places where cigarettes are sold, imposing heavier fines on underage smokers and restricting alternative forms of smoking, such as shisha pipes.
Public consultation on these proposed amendments to the Smoking Act ended last August. The proposed changes to the Act will be tabled this year. — The Straits Times