Ministry of Cigars is going offline. It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that Ministry of Cigars will be shut down. The reason for this is tobacco legislation, which is very strict in Singapore where I am based.
On August 16, 6 HSA (Health & Science Authorities) agents were waiting for me at my place of residence. They were acting on an anonymous tip that ministryofcigars.com was selling and advertising cigars. The first accusation is completely false, as ministryofcigars.com has never offered any cigars for sale. The second accusation is the one that causes the site to go black.
I was aware that adverting tobacco is prohibited in Singapore, just as in many other countries. But the definition of advertising to most people will be similar to the definition of the Adverting Association of the United Kingdom. That definition says “Advertising is a means of communication with the users of a product or service. Advertisements are messages paid for by those who send them and are intended to inform or influence people who receive them.” And with this definition in mind, ministryofcigars.com was not advertising as we were never paid to promote certain brands, blends, or lines.
After the visit of the HSA officers, I dove into the Singapore tobacco legislation about advertising and found out that the definition of advertising in that piece of legislation is different. It is much wider and every publication about tobacco is automatically advertising
Prohibition on advertisements relating to tobacco products
3. —(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) or section 22, any person who publishes or causes to be published or takes part in the publication of any advertisement —
(a) containing any express or implied inducement, suggestion, or request to purchase or to use any tobacco product;
(b) relating to any tobacco product or its use in terms which are calculated, expressly or impliedly, to lead to, induce, urge, promote or encourage the use of the tobacco product; or
(c) which mentions, illustrates or depicts —
(i) the name or trade name of any person associated or concerned with the manufacture, distribution or marketing of any tobacco product;
(ii) a brand name of or trademark relating to any tobacco product; or
(iii) any pictorial device commonly associated with a brand name of or trademark relating to any tobacco product, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
(2) The Minister may, in his discretion, approve, for such time and upon such conditions as he may think fit, the publication of an advertisement or class of advertisements which mentions or refers to the brand name associated with or the name or trade name of a person associated or concerned with the manufacture, distribution or marketing of a tobacco product —
(a) as the sponsor of an event or as congratulating another person or thing on an achievement of or event relating to such person or thing; or
(b) for the purpose of promoting or identifying any goods or services unconnected with any tobacco product which are manufactured, distributed, marketed or provided by that person.
(3) Subsection (2) shall not apply to any advertisement or class of advertisements which, directly or indirectly, leads to, induces, urges, promotes or encourages the use of any tobacco product.
(4) Where any person fails to comply with any condition imposed by the Minister under this section, the Minister may cancel the approval in relation to which that condition was imposed.
(5) Any application for approval under subsection (2) shall be made in such form and with such particulars as may be determined by the Minister.SMOKING (CONTROL OF ADVERTISEMENTS AND SALE OF TOBACCO) ACT
This basically means that even birthday wishes on social media are considered advertising under Singaporean law. Every post containing a cigar, even without a brand is already considered promotion.
Throwing the towel
Last week it was time for my hearing at HSA. The outcome is that the website and social media channels have to come down. Whether the offense is severe enough for a hefty fine is still up in the air. The outcome of the investigation will be known in two to four months. Then it will be known whether I get off with a warning, or if a fine is in order. But one thing is for sure, Ministry of Cigars will no longer be online. Ironically, this message comes exactly 3 years after the first publication on the website, to the day.
For the last couple of weeks, I have been exploring other options. Options such as registering the website in another country but as an individual living in Singapore I would still violate Singaporean legislation. There are no legal ways to continue for me, and I don’t want to violate any legislation. I never intended to, and as a law-abiding citizen, I have to follow the law. My days as a cigar blogger have come to an end. But I will still be working in the industry, as I have a daytime job as wholesale & international sales manager for a cigar & pipe tobacco importer & distributor. So those that come to Intertabac 2022, expect to see me roaming the trade show floor.
A thank you
Along the way, I met some great people. I gained a lot of support. Those that supported me, that helped me in the last three years, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will cherish the great conversations I had with you, the knowledge I gained. The knowledge I was able to share. Cigars are my passion. And it’s with a heavy heart that I say farewell to Ministry of Cigars. But the friendships remain.
As for the HSA officers that were knocking at my door, and that handled my case, thank you for your high level of professionalism.