Legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products in Singapore to be raised

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Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor spoke during the debate in Parliament on the ministry's budget on Thursday (9 March) that the legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products in Singapore will be raised from 18 to 21 in the effort to effort to reduce, if not eliminate, opportunities for the young to smoke.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will table the proposed changes within a year and the change will be phased in over a few years after the law is passed and it will cover the sale of tobacco to under-21s, as well as the purchase, use and possession of tobacco products by them.

The Minister also noted that youths above 18 who are already smokers will not be affected by the new rules.

Health Promotion Board had conducted a public consultation on further tobacco control measures between December 2015 and March 2016. The Minister said that the feedback showed "considerable support" for raising the minimum legal age for smoking in Singapore.

According to National Health Surveillance Survey 2013, 19 out of 20 smokers in Singapore had their first taste of cigarettes before they reach age 21.

While Dr Khor stated that 45 percent of smokers become regular ones between the ages of 18 and 21 years.

She also said that another survey conducted by World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that people who do not start smoking before the age of 21 "are unlikely to ever begin", adding that adolescent brains have a heightened sensitivity to the effects of nicotine. This means that youths are more susceptible to get addicted and making it harder for them to quit later in life.

The law that says legal age to smoke is at age 18 was in force since 1993.

Dr Khor said, "We want to protect our young from the harms of tobacco, and lay the foundation for good health."

Another study, Student Health Surveys (2014 - 2016), also said that two out of three underaged smokers obtain their tobacco from friends and schoolmates.

The new measure which aims at shrinking the pool of legal buyers in a youth's social circle expects to limit their access to tobacco and reduce peer pressure.

Another thing that the Government is looking closely at os to standardise the packaging of the tobacco, as Australia, France and the United Kingdom have done.

The Minister said, "We have closely studied the experience of these countries, and see significant value in moving in this direction, so as to reduce the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to youths, and raise the visibility and effectiveness of health warnings."

"We will conduct a further public consultation on standardised packaging this year to seek additional and more detailed views on possible standardised packaging measures. We will carefully review relevant considerations including public health, intellectual property and international law perspectives and ensure that any measures taken are consistent with our domestic law and international obligations," she added.