Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 3/2019)
Sir, I stand in support of this Bill that will contribute to further reducing the smoking rate and promote healthier living in Singapore.
Studies from other countries that have implemented standardised packaging, such as those in Australia and the UK, consistently highlight the deterrent effect this measure can have upon smoking.
The implementation of standardised packaging is a huge and positive leap in the right direction.
That being said, I would like to seek some clarifications on certain aspects of this Bill.
Increase in maximum fines for offences related to tobacco product licenses
First, I would like to seek clarification on the increase in the maximum fines that may be imposed for offences relating to licenses required for dealing with tobacco products.
Clause 4 of the Bill amends Section 18(5) of the Act to increase the fines for an offence under that provision.
Could the Minister for Health clarify the rationale behind the increase in maximum fines for such offences? Is there any evidence, for instance from studies conducted in other countries, that such an increase in maximum fines would be more effective in deterring offenders, especially in the case of repeat offenders?
Further, why have these fines been increased by 100%, both in the case of offenders and repeat offenders? Are there reasons as to why they have been increased by this specific amount?
Has there also been an increase in recent times for such offences?
Enforcement of standardised packaging requirements
Second, under the new Section 17, the Bill requires that all tobacco products that are imported, distributed and sold in Singapore adhere to the requirements prescribed under the Principal Act.
Can the Minister clarify exactly how these requirements would be enforced? Would the original powers of police and authorised officials be adequate, particularly given the introduction of a considerable measure such as standardised packaging?
Australia, the first country to introduce standardised packaging, set up a “Tobacco Plain Packaging Enforcement Committee” consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Health and the National Measurement Institute. This committee monitors potential contraventions and decides what type of punitive actions should be taken based on the contraventions.
Such a committee could be particularly useful in ensuring that the standardised packaging proposal is implemented smoothly in Singapore.
Does the Ministry have any plans to set up a similar enforcement committee to ensure that there is a separate institutionalised body responsible for all matters concerning enforcement of standardised packaging?
Effectiveness of Standardised Packaging
Finally, while I am aware of the potential positive effects standardised packaging can have on reducing the smoking rates, I am most concerned about the measure’s potential effectiveness, specifically in reducing the ability of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers on the harms of smoking.
According to the Ministry of Health’s Press Release on 31 October 2018, standardised packaging is intended to fulfill five main objectives. These include reducing the packaging’s potential to mislead consumers on the harmful effects of smoking, highlighting graphic health warnings, and raising awareness about the risks of smoking.
However, according to the primary study used in the Australian government’s review of its standardised packaging programme, researchers found that the measure did not adequately address the goal of reducing the ability of tobacco to mislead smokers on the harmful effects of smoking.
Further, the study found that there was no change in smokers’ misperceptions that certain types of tobacco products were better for their health.
Could the Minister clarify exactly how and why standardised packaging would reduce the potential of tobacco packaging to mislead consumers on the harmful effects of smoking then?
In addition, the study also discussed the inclusion of colour names in brand variant names after the implementation of standardised plain packaging in Australia.
As standardised packaging in Australia did not limit the use of colour names in brand variant names, companies began including colour names to evoke the sensations or feelings previously connoted by the colour on the package.
For instance, a product, which was known as “Dunhill Distinct” in the past, had its brand variant name changed to “Dunhill Distinct Blue” after the introduction of standardised packaging.
Such efforts had the effect of reinforcing the differences between tobacco products, which further contribute to the misconception that certain product variants were less harmful than others.
Given the potential ramifications, which can result from certain brand variant names, could the Ministry consider vetting and setting restrictions on certain brand variant names? For instance, based on the example I have used, would it be possible to prohibit the use of colour names in brand variant names?
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill. This Bill signals the Government’s firm willingness to work towards creating a tobacco-free Singapore and I wholeheartedly support these efforts.