Single cigarette sale is not in the interest of public health
Implementation of Article 11 (Pictorial Health Warnings on tobacco products) (PHWs) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the WHO has already been implemented in many parts of the world, including Sri Lanka at a coverage of 80 percent on the front and back of the packs.
However when the majority of smokers purchase cigarettes in loose form, the objective of introducing PHWs may not be achieved in full. As countries implement tobacco control policies proven to reduce tobacco use, the availability of single cigarettes could potentially undermine the effectiveness of strong policies.
In a number of low and middle income countries, single cigarettes are widely available and consumed. Evidence proves that availability of single cigarettes poses a potential threat to public health as they may be more affordable and accessible than packs especially to youth and people with fewer resources.
" Evidence proves that availability of single cigarettes poses a potential threat to public health as they may be more affordable and accessible than packs"
The Article 16 (Sales to and by minors) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organization obligates Parties to endeavour to prohibit sale of single stick sales or small cigarette packages due to the affordability of such products to minors. According to FCTC, banning single cigarette sales should be included as part of a country’s comprehensive approach to tobacco control.
Large pictorial health warnings are designed to inform potential consumers about the hazards of tobacco smoking and can motivate smokers to quit. However, single sticks are often displayed, sold and consumed without the consumers’ knowledge or having been exposed to pictorial health warnings on the pack. As such people who consume single cigarettes may be less likely to be exposed to pictorial health warnings.
Increasing price of tobacco products through tax increases is the most effective method to reduce tobacco consumption, especially among vulnerable populations. Single cigarettes are sold at a point that enables vulnerable populations, such as youth to purchase cigarettes without paying the price of a whole pack, effectively mitigating efforts to decrease the affordability of tobacco products through tax and price increases. When the price of a single cigarette is lower than for a cigarette pack, smokers who may otherwise quit because of affordability issues, may continue to smoke. For instance, when a tax increase was effective in Mexico, consumption came down overall, while the prevalence of single use increased from 10 to 20 percent.
On single sticks, it is almost impossible to determine if tobacco taxes have been paid, which results in a loss of revenue for governments. Moreover, retailers will mark up the price of a single stick in order to increase retail profits without having to contribute to taxes.
"Publicly the tobacco industry recognizes that single cigarette sticks are attractive to youth and at times even supports bans on single cigarettes. However, it does not stop the industry from violating their own marketing codes which prohibit the industry from encouraging the sale of single sticks, as well as lobbying against bans on sale of single cigarettes"
Study findings reveal that youth can and do access single cigarettes much easily and thus facilitate smoking among regular youth users. Availability of single sticks may also encourage youth non-smokers to experiment with smoking as well as early initiation. There is also evidence that retailers are more likely to sell single cigarettes to minors than to adults and that in stores where single cigarettes are available, as sales to minors are more prevalent compared to stores that don’t sell them.
Single cigarette sticks and small packs are also more attractive to younger smokers and in some countries, the younger the smoker, the more likely they are to purchase single cigarettes.
Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotion are effective at reducing tobacco use, especially among young people. Selling cigarettes in loose form in an informal environment and in public might prompt smoking behaviour even in the absence of advertisements. This is how tobacco industry has also been known to provide branded cups or signs to retailers that sell single cigarettes, effectively undermining TAPS ban.
The tobacco industry actively promotes the sale of single cigarettes to encourage use and increase profits. They engage in the sale of single cigarette sticks to reach customers who might not otherwise be able to afford their deadly and addictive products.
The industry’s own internal corporate records that made public through US litigation suggest that single cigarette sales are indeed targeted at those least able to afford cigarettes.
In a 1980s marketing brainstorming meeting that was recorded by audio, the marketing employees of the industry discussed making “stick purchases seem like a consumer benefit”.
Many countries in Africa, Latin American and Asia have reported that at least 10 percent of youth were offered free cigarettes by the tobacco industry within 30 days of being surveyed.
Publicly the tobacco industry recognizes that single cigarette sticks are attractive to youth and at times even supports bans on single cigarettes. However, it does not stop the industry from violating their own marketing codes which prohibit the industry from encouraging the sale of single sticks, as well as lobbying against bans on sale of single cigarettes.
Majority of countries in the world have taken steps to implement Article 16 of the FCTC to prohibit the sale of single sticks.
A study conducted under the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease across 10 cities in India, recommended the government to ban the sale of single cigarettes and eliminate kiddy packs. The single cigarette sale is a win-win game for the tobacco industry, but not in the interest of public health, says study co-investigator, and a consultant with the World Health Organization’s tuberculosis programme.
The study also says that singles are preferred by smokers as it helps to conceal their habit since smoking is largely unacceptable by the public. Singles also make it easier to promote new brands and conduct market research on customers at the point of sale.
The study establishes that taxes can be raised from 15 per cent to 32 per cent (depending upon the segment) till such time as single stick price and pack price variance is zero or diminished.
Therefore it is high time that Sri Lanka government take measures to ban sale of single cigarette sticks and mini packs.