Friday, June 24, 2011

World Tobacco Invasion: Battle of Singapore

When I have first come to Singapore, I have been shocked by the price of a package of cigarette in the country. It was nearly 3 times the money I was paying for the same package in my country. I was smoking 3 packages per week which would cost me in Singapore about 1,800 Singapore Dollars per year! As an ultra-money conscious person, this price difference achieved what all others methods I have tried could not achieve: I have stopped smoking. But price is probably not a big deterrent for many out there who continues to smoke despite numerous attempts here to decrease the number of smokers.

Other than the high taxes, Singapore is fighting against smoking hard in many fronts: the cigarette packages have graphic images of horrors of smoking;  there are fewer places every year to light up in public and more public campaigns against smoking but smoking habit is hard to defeat:

“The most recent figures from the National Health Survey conducted last year indicate an alarming increase in the percentage of Singaporeans smoking cigarettes. 14.3% of adults are now smokers compared with 12.6% in 2004. Even more concerning is the prevalence of smoking amongst young Singaporeans aged 18 to 29 which has jumped up to 16.3% from 12.3% in 2004 – this represents a 33% increase in just six years. The Health Sciences Authority has also revealed that almost 7,000 under-18s were caught smoking last year, higher than in previous years. These statistics suggest that deaths caused by tobacco smoke in Singapore (already over 2,500 every year) and the economic and social costs of  smoking may increase in the coming years.”

Source: Tobacco Free Singapore
Actually, the very real health threat and probability of a painful death should be the single factor to keep someone away from smoking. Unfortunately, it is not. Young people live with an unrealistic, unconscious belief: they believe they are immortals. Believe me, everybody on the surface seems to know that they are, like all lived and died before them, subject to sickness and death, in the case of smoking, a painful death. But actually no young human being (except a few) really knows this simple fact. So old people painfully dying in the hands of lung cancer (which was virtually none existing before cigarette was invented)  or graphic images on the cigarette package have little effect on them.  “All those bad things happened or can happen to others, not to me.” Believe or not, this is the universally excepted belief among young people.

 In the Bloomberg article, Siegel: Cigarette Warnings Say Too Much there are scientific evidences presented to support this fact:

“What these studies remind us is that most smokers smoke even though they already know cigarettes pose a grave health risk. By the time they’ve bought a pack of cigarettes, it’s already too late to persuade them not to have one. A warning label, no matter how graphic, is no match for the addiction. It may be just the kind of stress-producer that gives them the urge for another cigarette.

Young people, especially adolescents, are undeterred by health warnings because they tend to discount the future consequences of smoking. Many surveys have verified what is fairly obvious: In making decisions regarding their health, young people weigh future effects very little. To the contrary, the risk of danger helps lure many adolescents to experiment with cigarettes in the first place.

A further indication that the warning labels might have a minimal effect on smoking rates is that cigarette maker Philip Morris not only supports them but even negotiated and promoted the legislation that imposed them in the first place.”

I agree with the article when they say a better approach is proposed in Australia. In Australia by July 2012, cigarette producers will be forced to “use plain, olive-green packages, with only the brand name written in a small, plain font. No logos, no colour”. You can see a photo of sample packages below.  Olive green is selected because the researchers found that this colour is the least attractive package colour to smokers:


“British American Tobacco Australia (Bata), whose brands include Winfield, Dunhill and Benson & Hedges, claimed that the plan would infringe international trademark and intellectual property laws.
A Bata spokesman, Scott McIntyre, said: "The government could end up wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in legal fees trying to defend their decision, let alone the potential to pay billions to the tobacco industry for taking away our intellectual property."

But Ms Roxon said the government believed it was on very strong legal ground. Although smoking rates have almost halved over the past two decades, tobacco-related diseases still claim 15,000 lives in Australia every year, and cost the country about A$31.5bn (£20.3bn).The pared-down cigarette packs will feature lurid images showing the potential health impacts of smoking, with close-ups of rotting gums, blind eyes and sickly children.

Ian Olver, chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, said the move had "the potential to be one of the most significant public health measures in recent history". A spokesman for the Australian Council on Smoking and Health said: "This is a historic day for tobacco control globally. The tobacco industry's ferocious opposition to plain packaging shows that they know how effective it will be. They also know that once Australia has shown the way, other countries will follow."

Singapore is now actually debating more stringent measures against smoking: a gradual ban which basically prohibits the sale of tobacco to those born after 2000. You can read details from the tobacco free Singapore web site:

“As noted in the editorial, unlike an outright ban, the proposed measure would not encroach on the habits of existing smokers – instead it would prevent tobacco companies from recruiting new smokers. As well as offering support for the proposed measure, the editorial raised two questions …”

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