Commentary: Is it time for a tobacco endgame in Singapore?

Commentary: Is it time for a tobacco endgame in Singapore?

This policy would also benefit youth because if they picked up smoking, they would not get addicted to it. Very few would continue smoking into adulthood.

Studies estimate this policy would reduce smoking prevalence to less than 5 per cent within just a few years.

Although this is a dramatic drop, tobacco companies might try to find other ways to make cigarettes appealing. They may add flavours such as fruits and menthol, and decorate cigarettes with colourful designs to make them more appealing to youth.

PLAIN CIGARETTES TO MAKE SMOKING AS OFF-PUTTING AS POSSIBLE

To prevent this, Singapore could go a step further with a “plain cigarettes” policy. Just as plain packaging standardises the design of cigarette packs, plain cigarettes would standardise the design of cigarette sticks so they have no nicotine, no added flavours and no fancy designs.

Banning flavours could have a dramatic impact, as over half of the cigarettes sold in Singapore contain added flavours. A study published in April estimated that a tobacco flavours ban would reduce smoking prevalence by over a third in Singaporeans ages 18 to 29. Combined with a very low nicotine policy, the decline would be even more dramatic.

In addition, cigarette sticks could be designed to look as unpleasant as possible, plastered with health warnings in a drab colour such as dark green or yellow. Studies so far show that these sticks are quite off-putting to youth, and may be more effective than plain packaging as smokers are exposed to the health warning every time they take a puff.

Although no country has a plain cigarettes policy, Canada comes close as it has banned tobacco flavours and recently proposed to print health warnings on cigarette sticks. Tobacco flavours are also banned in the UK, European Union and several African countries.

Whichever approach Singapore chooses to take, one thing is clear: It’s time for a tobacco endgame in Singapore.

Yvette van der Eijk is Assistant Professor at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore.

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