Tobacco costs to go up soon but smokers undeterred
Raising prices of cigarettes must be part of multi-pronged approach to deter smoking, says expert
The 10 per cent increase to the tobacco excise tax is likely to push up the price of a pack of cigarettes by around a dollar.
But this is unlikely to encourage smokers to give up the habit, a straw poll by The New Paper shows.
Of the 30 people aged from 20 to 42 polled, only one said he was thinking of quitting, and only five said they would consider cutting down.
Slightly more than half said they would stick with their current brand, while the rest would consider switching to cheaper smokes - depending on the new prices and whether they can find suitable alternatives.
Announcing the tobacco excise tax hike in his Budget statement on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said it was aimed at discouraging the consumption of tobacco products.
A smoker is 15 to 25 times more likely than a non-smoker to get lung cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer death in Singapore, killing more than 1,100 people every year.
But the health risks and higher costs do not deter a property agent who has been smoking for 20 years.
Requesting anonymity, he said: "When I started, I paid just $1.60 for 10 sticks. I have no plans to stop smoking, so I've learnt to just live with the price increases."
Part-time student Syaheyd Sazali, 20, said he is likely to cut down from two packs a week to one because of the price hike.
Civil servant Faiz Rohim, 24, a social smoker who is the only one in the poll thinking of kicking the habit, said: "It is not worth paying that much as I am an occasional smoker."
However, the World Health Organisation says a tax hike that increases tobacco prices by 10 per cent decreases tobacco consumption by about 4 per cent in high-income countries and about 5 per cent in low- and middle-income countries.
Associate Professor Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said the tax hike is just one way to discourage smoking.
"This serves more as a stop signal to people that smoking is not good for them," he said.
But for it to be really effective, a multi-pronged approach is needed, added Prof Phua, noting that people still smoke despite Singapore having one of the highest tobacco prices in the world.
Some initiatives include raising the minimum age for smokers from the current 18 to 21 progressively.
It will be raised to 19 next year until it reaches 21 in 2021.
Research shows that those who don't start smoking by age 21 are unlikely to pick up the habit.
Although the tax hike took immediate effect on Monday, many retailers are selling at current prices.
Giant, 7-Eleven, NTUC FairPrice and Cheers yesterday said they had not adjusted prices pending discussion with suppliers.
Philip Morris, a major supplier, has sent out a circular to retailers, advising on new prices that will take effect on Friday. An industry insider told TNP that some retailers had already applied the new prices.
Replying to TNP's queries, a Singapore Customs spokesman said the duty payable for 100 sticks of cigarettes weighing 1 gram each after the 10 per cent hike is $42.70, compared to the previous $38.80.
The Tobacco Association of Singapore said in a statement yesterday that its members are still reviewing the impact of the hike.
It maintained that any tax hike would increase smuggling of illegal tobacco into Singapore, "given the price disparity in neighbouring countries".
Meanwhile, the owner of convenience store Chennai Mart, who wanted to be known only as Mr Kumar, 42, said several people wanted to buy cigarettes by the carton, something he had not seen before.
"I didn't have enough to sell them because my stocks were running low after the Chinese New Year period," he said.
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOW LI PING, AQIL HAMZA
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