MOH seeks feedback on cigarette display ban

SINGAPORE - Public consultation on till June 30; proposal aims to keep tobacco products out of sight

In time, buying cigarettes may not be as easy as pointing to a specific brand from a display wall of boxes behind the cashier.

To combat the rising number of young smokers, the Health Ministry (MOH) is gathering the public's views on whether to ban shops from having cigarettes on show. It may require shops to keep tobacco products hidden from view, and produce them only when smokers ask to buy a specific pack.

This dramatic measure was revealed by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on the sidelines of this year's launch of the National Smoking Control Campaign at Capri by Fraser in Changi yesterday.

Some 16 per cent of youth in Singapore aged 18 to 29 smoke regularly - an increase from 12 per cent in 2004. This also exceeds the national rate of 14.3 per cent.

Mr Gan said the proposed ban aims to protect the young from tobacco advertising, and to ultimately "denormalise" smoking. "It will also help to reduce impulse purchases of tobacco products and provide a more conducive environment for smokers who are trying to quit," he added.

A study by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) last year found that almost half of young adult smokers bought tobacco when they saw cigarettes on display.

The proposed move follows recent amendments to tobacco laws to discourage the habit.

Last February, misleading descriptions such as "light" and "mild" were banned on cigarette packets sold here.

To further tackle the scourge, the latest nationwide campaign against smoking will zero in on workplaces such as hotels.

One in three hotel workers smokes every day, according to a survey of 44 hotels last year by HPB and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

Said HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang: "The numbers are actually very startling. There is a strong need for tobacco control initiatives to directly address specific groups such as those within the hotel industry."

The health agency is now working to expand the reach of hotels' smoking cessation programmes.

Such programmes offer counselling help for smokers at their workplaces. Participants can also call a hotline for additional support.

Mr Zee said similar efforts for other sectors with higher-than-normal smoking rates, such as the security industry, are also being looked into.

SNEF's senior manager for workplace health promotion Jerry Seah said the good news is, based on the hotel survey, 76 per cent of smokers are ready to give up the habit.

They can start by taking part in a nationwide challenge called the I Quit 28-day Countdown.

Overseas studies have determined that smokers who manage to stay smoke-free for at least 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good.

More than 1,600 smokers have already signed up for the initiative, which is part of the latest campaign. Among them is hotel worker Alex Chong, 35.

The food and beverage manager, who is married with a young daughter, tried to give up smoking 15 years ago, but failed. "Doing it alone, sometimes you don't have the motivation," said the 20-cigarette-a day smoker.

But now that a group of fellow smokers is trying to do the same, Mr Chong is confident of making the cut this time. "I promised my daughter that I'll quit," he added.

The deadline for submission of views on the cigarette display ban is June 30. To take part, visit: www.hpb.gov.sg/tobacco-public- consult

chpoon@sph.com.sg


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