Feasibility of amendment to Tobacco Act questioned

In a Straits Times report dated 3 October (Tuesday), it is reported that Singapore has taken its first legal step towards raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21, with the introduction of a new Bill in Parliament yesterday.

The Bill to amend the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act will also make it illegal for people to own imitation tobacco products such as e-cigarettes.

Currently, it is against the law to import, distribute, sell or offer to sell such products. With the proposed changes, owners of e-cigarettes can be fined up to $2,000.

The Bill is tabled by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and will be debated at a later date.

The Health Ministry said in an explanatory statement attached to the Bill that raising the minimum legal age is intended “to reduce, with a view to ultimately eliminating, the opportunities for the young to be tempted and take up smoking before attaining 21 years of age”.

In Singapore, the years between 18 and 21 are when nearly half of smokers start to light up on a regular basis. The average age at which people start to smoke has also gone down, from 17 in 2001 to 16 in 2013.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), a former smoker, told The Straits Times the move is a “crucial step forward”, saying that he started smoking when he was about 18.

“Research by the World Health Organisation shows people who don’t pick up smoking before 21 are unlikely to start,” he said.

Many readers commented on the move, saying that this will not work as the previous age restriction of 18 years old did not work either.

Siti Nor Aini A S wrote, “Sigh. I was passing through ITE campus in cck. Walking at the bus stop, bridge, pedestrian walkways all crowded with students smoking. There are many ‘no smoking’ signs but all ignored. No enforcement therefore all this legal age mumbo jumbo are definitely not working.”

Dominique Lee wrote, “13 year old’s who smoke when the legal age is 18 will continue to smoke even when it is raised to 21. This is redundant. I remember there was an idea floating around to ban smoking for those born from a certain year onward. That would be an alternative to an outright ban and would achieve the objective of reducing/eliminating youth smoking.”

Vivian Liew wrote, “Do what Russia is considering – ban cigarettes for all born after, say, 2014. Gives plenty of time to adjust, and current smokers aren’t touched. Possibly also ban buying cigarettes for those underage, on pain of a fine and not being allowed to buy cigarettes (maybe even throw in booze while you’re at it – it’ll hit even the non-smokers), period.”

Peter Singh wrote, “Raise the minimum age of national service too because it does not make sense at age 18 you are allowed to die for your country but you cannot smoke. Nonsense got limit.”

Steven Goh Robo wrote, “It was never just about the minimum age for youngsters to pick up smoking, but its the vast availability of outlets that sells cigarettes, imagine even candy shops and newspaper stands also selling cigarettes, on top of all the 7-Eleven and Cheers outlets, provisional shops etc, together with nearly all food courts and hawker centers, all have stalls that sells cigarettes. There are simply no lack of supplies. Reduce the number of licences to be given out every year to these outlets. While I can understand we cannot totally cut off the supplies and import of cigarettes to sell in Singapore, but we certainly can make it less easy to buy, and certainly simply increase the price and tax for cigarettes will not help, just as it has been proven that increases in COE prices will not stop people from buying cars.”

Derek Joseph Sun wrote, “How about banning cigarettes but allowing products like E-cigarettes with just menthol or tobacco flavor and simply tax according to nicotine level?
Studies show people who smoke e-cigarettes tend to slowly give up the habit overtime, makes a lot more sense cutting down the number of smokers.”

Chong Kian Beng wrote, “I don’t support smoking. In fact I hate it. But allowing NS to start at 18 but disallowing them to smoke until 21, does not seem right. How about not allowing them to hold guns before 21? Please, align.”

Matthew Chua Bon Hou wrote, “No need to do all these funny stuff. double the price of cigarettes every year. this year $10, next year $20, 3rd year $40, 4th year $80. At the same time offer $10,000 reward to those who successfully quit smoking for a year. This carrot and stick combination will drastically reduce the number of smokers in 5 years!”

Joseph Tan wrote, “It shows how half-hearted the government is in treating this. Afraid of losing out in revenues if total cigarettes ban and depriving medical sponsorship from tobacco companies is it? If we are determined to stop all smoking why are we taking it step by step. Quit smoking wouldn’t kill a smoker overnight but 2nd hand hand smoke will have a risk of a lifetime.”

Christopher Wahid wrote, “Stop the sale and imports of Tabacco altogether. Ban smoking in Singapore. Period!
So the government won’t have to earn the tax levy at all.”

Tsai Teck See wrote, “Raising the age is one thing. What will schools do to ensure students stay away from cigarette smoking?”

Peter Tan wrote, “Nothing will solve the smoking problem if the ban on cigarettes sale never took place.You can do anything everything but in the end if selling cigarettes still is legal and allowed nothing is going to change that people who wants to puff will continue buying and more falling sick and a shortage of hospital beds.”

Sharon Long wrote, “You can implement/tighten as many laws as you deem fit but, if you do not put in place enough law enforcers to see through, it’s good for nothing.
Besides, age limit was never a significant factor in determining whether or not an individual takes up smoking. It isn’t too difficult for an underage person to get his hands on a pack of cigarettes really. So many ways to bypass the law.”

Reginald Ashton wrote, “One sentence is all that is needed to prove that the government will never ban cigarettes.
It is not about the age or who or health or what. Just money. Cigarettes can tax, while, e-cigarettes cannot. Even though its been proven to be a better, healthier alternative.”

Amurtha Murtusamy wrote, “Working in retail, I see youngsters buying cigarettes and it is really making me sad to sell them. If government thinks of money only, then its difficult to stop it.”

Zhi Liang wrote, “Actually does it make a difference 18 or 21? I have seen younger smokers that seems like secondary school boys and girls smoking openly. I do not see any health benefit smoking bring for now yet but I think it does boost the economy greatly. If it is so beneficial to the economy, then why restrict so much? If it does not benefit the economy and health, then why allow?”

Decry Hardiyanto Bin Zaidi wrote, “You ban drugs in Singapore but you still got drug addicts. Key thing is, do your enforcers will to work extra hard to ensure citizen comply with the regulations?”

Max Li wrote, “Nowadays smokers are getting younger and younger.
Most are just subjected to peer pressure especially if one want to stay in their social circle.
They have to be like them, whether same fashion sense and when one smoke others follow.”

Meanwhile, some fully support the new bill.

Lee Hong Hui wrote, “Do it do it! I had enough of seeing youngsters smoke their health away. And we victims of second hand smoke. Actually go to 30. 21 still too young. Must go 30. Don’t know why. Just go.”

Nigel P Crane wrote, “Please just ban smoking entirely. Everyone is made aware of the dangers of smoking yet still choose to pay to kill themselves. Why? Do people want to die young? Amazing when people develop lung cancer and other diseases caused by smoking they quit and say how they regret ever smoking in the first place. Sadly, for most, it is too late by then.”