SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE TOBACCO (CONTROL OF ADVERTISEMENTS AND SALE) (AMENDMENT) BILL IN PARLIAMENT ON 14 MAR 2016
1. The enhancements to the Bill are evident indicators of the government’s unrelenting determination to create a smoke-free living environment in Singapore. In Singapore, tobacco kills about 2,500 smokers and 250 non-smokers each year, said the Health Promotion Board statistics in May 2015 . From a social viewpoint, tobacco use impinges on other peoples’ lives. From an economic standpoint, the health problems created impose a financial burden on all taxpayers – you, me and everybody. This does not include the emotional and mental suffering of the victims and families who lose their loved ones due to smoking.
2. Ban of point-of-sale displays of tobacco
2. We have, as part of our anti-smoking campaign, required cigarette packs to carry graphic images and warnings since 2004. This was recommended as part of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative. Such graphic warnings were found to be generally effective in creating awareness and motivating people to quit smoking, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health . Yet a survey done in 2013 showed that many smokers in Singapore were undeterred by the graphic warnings. A similar sentiment was echoed by a British study held in the same year . Differing demographics worldwide can lead to inconsistencies. Therefore, we need to review policies regularly and explore new solutions.
3. Many tobacco companies and retailers rely on point-of-sale displays to compensate for the inability to advertise tobacco sales in many countries. Tobacco companies are great marketers. In some local convenience stores, cigarette packages dominate the most eye-catching display wall. The display takes a premium spot, e.g. next to the cashier. In several countries, UK, Canada, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand among others, such displays are banned.
4. The Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Stirling said 46% of UK teenagers were aware of the displays, and those who intended to smoke were more likely to recall brands they had seen at the point of sale. Research by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in Australia and Stanford University in the US confirmed this. A study of 25,000 young people in New Zealand found that children exposed to displays were almost three times more likely to smoke . Research in Australia and the US shed light on the rationale: Point-of-sale-display advertising of cigarettes normalises tobacco use for children and creates a perception that tobacco is easily obtainable.
5. To further drive home the point, RAND Corporation did a one-of-a-kind laboratory replica of a convenience store to examine whether limiting displays of tobacco products in retail outlets could reduce the intention of young people to begin smoking. The results published in November last year, showed that there was a 11 percent reduction in smoking intention when the display of tobacco products was hidden compared to when it was visible behind the cashier.
6. Point-of-sale display is a common sales promotion tactic. I believe many of us can recount a time when we bought something on impulse at the cashier, simply because seeing it stimulated a desire for it. There is already a blanket ban on advertising and promotion of tobacco products in Singapore. It only makes sense to extend the ban to point-of-sale displays. In conjunction with the proposed increase in the minimum age to purchase cigarettes in the near future, this measure is expected to reduce temptation and impulsive cigarette buys. I pledge my full support for the ban on tobacco displays.
3. Prohibiting internet advertising
7. By the same logic, it seems ideal to prohibit internet advertising, especially as our youths spend more and more time on the Internet. Online shopping is fast growing and last year, a news report indicated that people were hawking banned e-smoking devices online.
8. But I have to caution against the possible limitations of this. Firstly, forcefully limiting exposure could be a double-edged sword. When there is too little of something, it becomes a novelty, a taboo, an object of curiosity. Consider drugs and marijuana, they are never openly sold, yet people fall prey to it. Just recently, Ah Boys to Men actor Noah Yap was sentenced to nine months detention for taking cannabis.
9. Second, the World Wide Web is too extensive to police. There are numerous online groups advocating smoking. Just do a search and you’ll find a number of smoking and drug use advocacy pages on Facebook with thousands of followers. There are even web articles dedicated to paparazzi shots of celebrities smoking, glamorising smoking in a perfectly legal way.
4. More proactive efforts required to curb smoking
10. Ultimately, there is a limit to the effect of banning point-of-sale displays and internet advertising. I recall a news report that interviewed a smoker who had been smoking since he was 15. He said, “I don’t need to see the pack to crave a cigarette. What matters most is the smell.” When adults smoke, children and teens see them. They walk by, and they whiff the smoke. They probably even associate smoking with adulthood. Thus, we must invest more resources in continued public awareness and outreach efforts, both for youth and adults.
11. Smoke-free zones in public spaces can also reduce the visual and nasal temptation of cigarettes. In Nee Soon South, we have piloted designated smoking points that are located far away from schools and densely populated areas. There are still some smokers who smoke outside them, but I believe that through social conditioning, we can eventually be like Japan, where most smokers voluntarily smoke at designated spaces. They have been very well received, and following residents’ requests, we are now expanding them to all over Nee Soon South. Since WHO and HPB both seem to argue that cigarettes are to a certain extent “out of sight, out of mind”, then shouldn’t we create smoking areas which are away from the public eye? Perhaps the Ministry would want to consider this?
5. Help to quit smoking
12. We must also create an environment that is more supportive and encouraging for potential quitters. When we piloted the Smoke-free zones in my constituency, we also had Blue Ribbon Ambassadors. These ambassadors would not only encourage smokers to smoke in the designated smoking points, but also advise them on how to quit smoking. I hope that we can eventually pool together more resources to turn it into a nation-wide effort. We are striving to be a more compassionate society, and in our good intentions to combat the harmful effects of smoking, we must not make smokers feel alienated and criminalised.
6. Helping small cigarette retailers
13. Having said much on the hazards of tobacco smoking, I would like to briefly wrap up by asking for help to small retailers who sell cigarettes. For them, cigarette sale is good revenue. It would be impractical to expect these small business owners to change their focus to something else in a short period of time. This is especially since their other major source of revenue, alcohol sales, have been restricted already. How can we help them adapt? What substitute can they sell in place of cigarettes to generate income? As part of our commitment to help small businesses, I hope the Ministry will be able to look into the situations of these small shops.
14. Allow me to briefly summarise in Chinese. 我国向来积极打击吸烟率，禁止店面展示香烟和禁止网络烟草广告能减少青少年面对的诱惑，相信能有效降低吸烟率。但是这些措施的效果还是有限。毕竟，青少年在街上能够随时看到嗅到大人在抽烟，这还是能让他们觉得抽烟是成熟的象征，诱惑他们尝试抽烟。因此，我建议全国建造更多指定吸烟点，这些吸烟点一般远离学校和人多的地方，这样能减少青少年面对的诱惑。同时，我们必须加倍注重如何鼓励和帮助烟民戒烟。
Madam, I beg to move.