Following the passing of an amendment of the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act through a Bill in Parliament on Monday (10 Sep), officers of the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be given greater authority to enter private premises that fall under the smoking ban, including entertainment spaces such as pubs and nightclubs, without warrants for their investigations, and to enforce anti-smoking regulations subsequently.
Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor rationalised the move by saying that the increased powers will ensure the effectiveness of the pre-existing anti-smoking laws.
"NEA can invoke the power of entry at all reasonable times, such as the operating hours of the place, or at any time if there is reasonable belief that an offence under the Act has been committed there," she announced.
Dr Khor elaborated that "Currently, to investigate complaints about smoking violations, NEA enters and inspects the premises with the manager's consent.
"While most have been cooperative, some managers have hindered investigations by denying NEA's authorised officers entry into their premises, which prevents timely, effective investigation and enforcement," she said, adding that some of the officers have reported facing physical and verbal abuse by the management or staff on such premises despite having sought permission.
Dr Khor warned that anyone found guilty of abusing NEA officers will now have to pay a fine of up to S$2,000 for the first offence, while repeat offenders will be liable to pay a maximum fine of S$5,000 and/or to serve a maximum of three-months' imprisonment.
Under the current Environment Public Health Act which is placed under the authority of the NEA, it is an offence to prevent authorised officers from conducting their duties. Penalties for doing so include a fine of up to S$5,000 for first-time offenders, and a fine of S$10,000 and/or a maximum of three months' imprisonment for repeat offenders.
Dr Khor added that the Bill will grant officers permission to collect audio, visual and physical evidence from the premises where the smoking ban is enforced for the purpose of prosecution where breaches of the law have been detected.
However, she reaffirmed the House that authorised officers will only be allowed to seize evidence directly related to the suspected offence, and that only officers directly involved in the investigation will be allowed to have access to the evidence.
This follows the amendments made to the Films Act passed in Parliament in March, which will allow Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) officers to enter, search and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offences”.
Member of Parliament of the Nee Soon GRC Mr Louis Ng warned that children of smokers will be exposed to a greater risk of picking up the habit themselves than those of non-smokers, while Member of Parliament of the Fengshan SMC Ms Cheryl Chan said that a resident in her constituency had to keep her windows closed to prevent her children from inhaling second-hand smoke from a neighbour of theirs who smokes.
Dr Khor noted in response that while unregulated smoking in communal areas can be bothersome and hazardous to non-smokers, she acknowledged that “Not everyone will support the view that the Government should intrude into one’s private space when it comes to smoking.”
Additionally, NEA will now have the authority to list Orchard Road as a non-smoking zone, as the popular retail district anticipates a ban in public smoking by the end of 2018.
Orchard Road, according to Dr Khor, is only geographical area in Singapore that will be marked as a No Smoking Zone (NSZ) for the time being, citing that the authorities will evaluate the effectiveness of NSZs before designating other areas across the island.
Since June last year, works have begun to put up screens at designated smoking areas along public spaces on Orchard Road, such as Orchard Towers, Far East Plaza, The Heeren, Cuppage Terrace, and behind Somerset MRT Station, while others are located in private properties such as Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, Ngee Ann City and Plaza Singapura, according to TODAY Online.
However, the deadline was pushed to the end of this year, as several businesses in Orchard Road have reported that they required more time to make adequate preparations to adjust to the NSZ regulations, including identifying suitable locations and to inform patrons who smoke regarding the new designated smoking spots.
Smoking in a NSZ is illegal, and those found guilty of smoking in such areas will face a fine of up to S$1,000, which is similar to the penalties imposed against those enforced in other places where NEA's smoking ban is enforced.