NTUC cigarette vending machine reminds smokers of cigarettes

From ‘Cigarette dispenser an ad in itself’, 28 Mar 16, ST Forum

(Liu I-Chun): In having a cigarette machine, it seems FairPrice is disingenuous in fulfilling the letter of the law but not the spirit, and dressing it up as a productivity improvement (“Tobacco display ban: FairPrice pilots opaque dispenser“; March 17).

The mere presence of these prominent dispenser machines, sans branding notwithstanding, reminds people of cigarette availability. After all, advertising is, in essence, association, implication and conditioning.

Under Article 13 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it is recommended that vending machines be banned “because they constitute, by their very presence, a means of advertising and promotion”

FairPrice says that it “supports the Government’s efforts in protecting the health of Singaporeans”. If this is so, the proper thing to do would be to stop selling cigarettes at all FairPrice outlets and convenience stores, like what the CVS drugstore chain in the United States did in 2014 (“US chain to end tobacco sale”; Feb 6, 2014).

Unfortunately, FairPrice’s latest venture suggests that it has no intention of giving up this easy money-spinner, which runs counter to its corporate philosophy of doing good for the community.

FairPrice should adhere to WHO guidelines by not using tobacco vending machines and scale down tobacco sales.

NTUC is willing to take shark’s fin off the shelves but can’t let go of sin-tax generating cigarettes, hiding the goods behind a drab looking machine and making it tedious for smokers to obtain their fix. The reason behind banning shark’s fin was that the organisation was committed to being ‘socially responsible’. If a supermarket were truly ‘socially responsible’, it wouldn’t just stop selling tobacco products, but alcohol, snacks and carbonated drinks as well.

In other words, a supermarket with a moral compass would go bankrupt, and NTUC, by setting itself as an exemplar in ethical consumption, has put itself in a quandary with the cigarette dispenser program. It’s like placing the candy jar on a higher shelf to discourage a kid from grabbing it. It only makes the object more desirable to the addict. By making cigarettes slightly less accessible, it also encourages the smoker to purchase more packs from the machine so that he can skip the hassle the next time round. So, how ‘socially responsible’ is NTUC when it spends money on cigarette dispensing technology, and then allows the media to run a story that practically says ‘Cigarettes for sale!’ all over it?

In any case, I suspect even banning tobacco from supermarkets wouldn’t deter the hardcore smoker. We may have banned cigarette ads since 1973 but that didn’t stop the industry from seducing their clients through subliminal cues. Malboro’s disposable lighter ads, with their epic Magnificant Seven soundtrack, were banned from all cinemas in 1984. In 1986, ‘travel’ ads by the likes of Peter Stuyvesant were scrutinised by the Ministry for alluding to smoking. Thankfully, we haven’t resorted to censoring movies featuring lead actors puffing away in style.

Scare tactics with disgusting pictures of charred lungs on cigarette packs didn’t work. Neither did the public service ads featuring victims of lung cancer talking through an eviscerated windpipe. Nevermind cancer, deformed babies or infertility, people continue to puff anyway, and simply keeping visual cues away from them is inadequate to curb nicotine cravings. You don’t need a cigarette vending machine to remind people of cigarettes. A familiar smell, a particular place, a random memory of a specific event or person may all trigger the urge to smoke, whether it’s the decorative alpine vistas that look no different from a Ricola herbal candy box, or the piss and vomit-filled back valley of the club where you had your virgin smoke.

Some countries have in fact banned cigarette vending machines altogether, England and  Malaysia included. And here we are introducing it to the world like it’s some breakthrough in retail automation. NTUC, if you care for the smokers in Singapore as much as you care for sharks swimming in the oceans thousands of miles away, do the ‘socially responsible’ thing and cease sale altogether. If you don’t want the investment to go to waste, simply substitute by stocking it with another vice product. Alcohol, R21 DVDs, maybe even chewing gum perhaps?


One Response

  1. […] Everything Also Complain: NTUC cigarette vending machine reminds smokers of cigarettes – Mr Brown: Audio: Kim Huat on smartphones in SAF camps – Money Smart Blog: 4 of […]

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