Sorry, cigarettes should only be sold in packs! of 20.

Each Party shall endeavour to prohibit the sale of cigarettes individually or in small packets which increase the affordability of such products to minors.

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – Article 16, Clause 3.

It is very common that when you get into the corner shop, almost every shop will have a couple of brands of cigarette packs on the shopkeeper’s table, just in reach. Those who walk into the shop will quickly take some coins and handover to the shopkeeper and say the name of the brand and the shopkeeper will give a stick out of the box. In some instances, I have seen that the person walking in won’t even say a work but just throw the coins on the table and the shopkeeper immediately takes what the person requires. That’s how easy it is to get access to a cigarette in this country. For example in India

Many smokers in India, including minors and students, prefer buying loose cigarettes because they are much more affordable than the whole pack.

Saptarishi Dutta, Quartz India

Sale of loose cigarettes have other problems as well. They include

  • They are affordable to youth and hence becomes a factor of encouragement for non-smokers to experiment with smoking.
  • Displayed, sold and consumed without health warnings.
  • Also, it may be a barrier to quitting because of the tendency to buy that last cigarette before quitting, which in fact never becomes the last.

According to a study conducted in February 2014 in India, it is revealed that sale of single cigarettes is an important factor contributing to early experimentation, initiation of smoking and also persistence of tobacco use. The findings also state that single stick sales promoted sale of illicit cigarettes and nutralizes the effect of pack warnings and effective taxation.

A naturalistic observation study done in California (1994 of which the relevance is valid up to now in my opinion) showed that single cigarettes were sold significantly more often to minors and minors paid more for these single sticks.

Where are we on this in Maldives? Well the tobacco control act of 2010 as we all know is weak. So far only one regulation has been ratified since then. Most of the regulations related to tobacco trade has been pending since 2011-2012, none ratified though reached the ratification stage over three governments. Those regulation drafts would now be outdated and called for a review. The regulation that was passed has its own challenges and is very weakly enforced.

As per single stick sales, I remember well that this was a clause in the very first draft of the law around 2006. The clause (like many other strong clauses) never made it to the law when it was passed through the parliament. All this is left for regulation. The ban on single stick sales was also included in the draft of the trade related regulations pending ratification. Well no point talking about that now I guess …

Despite the above “challenge”, during the recent tax debate on tobacco at parliament, the issue of a single stick sales ban came on the floor. Aha, now this is a little light of hope, perhaps. Immediately when this happened, the tobacco control bodies in the country have embarked on pushing this agenda. Though we need to quickly push it into the debate before the issue dies down, as of it never occurred before. You know that happens.

The most effective single stick sales ban have come with a control on pack sizes. The gold standard in most of the effectively implemented regulations seem to have a single stick ban combined with a pack size regulation of not less than 20 sticks. We should not accept anything less. And as of now, that is what the regulatory authorities will propose as far as I know.

A single stick cigarette sales ban will be a huge step towards curbing the epidemic. I just hope policy makers have the will to do this, and be away from the influence of the industry who will blatantly oppose this as they have in all other countries.

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One Comment on "Sorry, cigarettes should only be sold in packs! of 20."

  1. Abdullah Faseeh
    06/05/2017 at 11:48 Permalink

    Very good point
    My concern is the number of smokers involved in the policy making process.

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