Singapore announced on Wednesday it would introduce the new measures early next year, when all tobacco products will be packaged in a standardised size, shape and drab brown colour, free of any logos or images. Only brand names will be allowed. The 50 per cent size of graphic health warnings will also be increased to 75 per cent of the package surface.
“The global standard and best practice in packaging tobacco products is now plain or standardised 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 – France, the UK, Hungary, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Uruguay and Slovenia – have also introduced plain packaging laws.
In the Asean region, Thailand is in advanced stages of preparing plain packaging regulations, while Malaysia had announced plans to follow its neighbours 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 Organisation 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 favour 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,” 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.
Wendell C Balderas