Single cigarettes are widely available and consumed in a number of low-and middle-income countries. Evidence suggests that the availability of single cigarettes poses a potential threat to public health because they may be more affordable and accessible than packs especially to youth and people with fewer resources.

Article 16 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (Sales to and by minors) obligates Parties to endeavour to prohibit the sale of single stick sales or small cigarette packages due to the affordability of such products to minors. Banning single cigarette sales should be included as part of a country’s comprehensive approach to tobacco control.

As countries implement tobacco-control policies proven to reduce tobacco use, the availability of single cigarettes could potentially undermine the effectiveness of strong policies.

Single cigarettes are sold at a price point that allows vulnerable populations, such as youth, to buy cigarettes without paying the price of a whole pack, effectively mitigating efforts to decrease the affordability of tobacco products through tax and price increases. 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.

It is almost impossible to determine if tobacco taxes have been paid on single sticks, which results in a loss of revenue for governments. Retailers also will mark up the price of a single stick in order to increase retail profits without having to contribute to taxes.

Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotion are effective at reducing tobacco use, especially among young people. Selling of single cigarettes in an informal environment and in public might cue smoking behaviour even in the absence of advertisements. The tobacco industry has also been known to provide branded cups or signs to retailers that sell single cigarettes, effectively undermining TAPS (Tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship)ban.

Evidence suggests that single sticks facilitate smoking among regular youth users, and may encourage youth non-smokers to experiment with smoking. 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, sales to minors are more prevalent compared to stores that don’t sell them.

Single cigarette sticks and small packs are more attractive to younger smokers in some countries, the younger the smoker the more likely they are to buy single cigarettes.

The tobacco industry engages in the sale of single cigarette sticks to reach customers who might not otherwise be able to afford their deadly and addictive products. The tobacco industry recognizes that single cigarettes are attractive to youth and at times even supports bans on single cigarette sales. However, that does not stop the tobacco industry from violating their own marketing codes, which prohibit them from encouraging the sale of single sticks, actively promoting the sale of single sticks as well as lobbying bans on the sale of single cigarettes. Studies indicate that youth can and do access single sticks more easily. Poor people also have more access to single cigarettes depending on the availability of money.

Single sticks are often displayed, sold and consumed without consumers ever having been exposed to warning labels placed on the pack. Therefore, people who consume single cigarettes may be less likely to be exposed to graphic warnings. Consequently, the whole purpose of using Pictorial Health Warnings (PHW) in cigarette packs is lost. Sri Lanka commenced implementation of the regulation of PHWs on tobacco products initially at 60 and increased to 80 per cent by July 1, 2015.

Sri Lanka implemented this regulation in compliance with the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), of which Sri Lanka is a signatory nation. It is a unique success in the field of tobacco control. The effectiveness of PHWs in reducing tobacco use has the potential to be undermined because the majority of smokers in Sri Lanka purchase cigarettes as single sticks at retail outlets.
In such a backdrop, the consumers do not have the opportunity to see the pictorial health warnings. Because the retailers do not display cigarette packets, but keep them inside and issue single cigarettes to consumers. Therefore, Sri Lankan government should implement Article 16 of the FCTC and ban sale of single cigarettes and mini packs to achieve the real and complete outcome of PHW regulation.