Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng on Monday (5 October) has called the Government to ban the residents from smoking near the window and at the balconies of their homes to minimise the effect of secondhand smoke on neighbours.
Speaking in his adjournment motion, Mr Ng, who is also the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment noted that those inhaling secondhand smoke are “actually exposed to more chemicals than the smokers themselves”.
He went on to explain that the sidestream smoke, which is the main component in secondhand smoke, “is four times more toxic than the smoke that a smoker inhales from cigarette”.
“According to MOH, even the slightest exposure to secondhand smoke can harm babies and young children. For them, even a little is really too much,” the MP noted.
He continued, “In 2016, alone, 383 people in Singapore died due to secondhand smoke. That is about one person dying every single day. We must do something.”
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has received 11,400 smoking-related complaints in the first four month of 2020, which is a 20 per cent increase from last year, according to Mr Ng.
Noting that the increase was mostly due to people smoking in or near homes, he said that the number of cigarette-smoke disputes escalated to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) “has quadrupled”, from two cases to eight cases a month given that more people working from home due to coronavirus pandemic.
“NEA has previously said that secondhand smoke is a ‘neighbourly’ issue,” he noted, adding that the residents thus tried to solve problems by talking to each other, and when it doesn’t work, they seek mediation and support from authorities, but “have found these channels ineffective”.
He then said, “Even when MPs want to help, they cannot seek help from law enforcement because there is no relevant law or regulation to enforce. A different solution is needed …The neigbourly issue or secondhand smoke is not the same …. It caused long term health damage and death. It cannot be solved the same way we solve all these other neighbourly disputes.”
Noting that their proposed ban is “very similar” to what NEA officers already do, Mr Ng highlighted that it would “empower the officer to enforce the current advisories”.
As restricting people’s action in HDB flat might be an “intrusive regulatory approach”, the MP however said that there are already laws that intrude people’s behaviour within their own home such as banning residents from keeping cats, nudity or feeding wildlife.
“Why we do we draw the line on nudity, pets and feeding wildlife but not at secondhand smoke, something that kills hundreds of people in Singapore a year?” he noted.
Louis Ng suggests to use cameras to capture those who smoke at the balconies and at window
Other than this, Mr Ng also suggested the use of surveillance cameras to catch those who smoke at the balconies and at window.
He said, “Our proposal is enforceable using existing technologies already used on the ground. NEA has been using cameras to catch high-rise litterbugs. These surveillance cameras are focused only on the external facade of the housing units being investigated to capture the act of littering. It can even capture someone throwing cigarette butts out of their windows.
Not only this, NEA had also been using the thermal surveillance cameras to catch residents smoking at prohibited areas such as common corridors, lift lobby, and staircase landing, he added.
“NEA can use all these existing technologies to catch those who smoke near window and at balconies. We have years of experience fine-tuning their use and to minimise privacy intrusion and to maximise successful enforcement. What is missing now, is just the legislation,” Mr Ng noted.
Dr Amy Khor: Such legislation could be highly intrusive; capturing evidence of smoking offence is not “straight forward”
Responding to the proposed ban, the Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Amy Khor however noted that “such legislation could be highly intrusive”.
Dr Khor said, “We are just as keen to resolve this issue and have carefully studied these suggestions. Unfortunately, besides the fact that such legislation could be highly intrusive, there are significant practical challenges in enforcement that limit effectiveness.”
She explained that the enforcement would be challenging given that capturing evidence of the smoking offence is not “straightforward”.
“Smelling the tobacco smoke is not sufficient as cameras must capture the smokers smoking or holding a lighted cigarette as evidence for enforcement. However, a smoker can easily hide behind a pillar, frosted glass, windows or curtains to avoid detection by the cameras. Overall, this may entail deployment of significant resources without achieving effective outcomes,” she noted.
In order to capture the smoking act, the Minister also asserted that the camera must also be placed at “suitable vantage points” so that it can capture those who smoke at the window or balcony.
She added, “For towering flats, finding the right vantage point in common areas to deploy the camera is not always possible. Directly aiming cameras into homes is highly intrusive unlike surveillance for high-rise littering where the camera is trained at the building facade and can be placed at ground level some distance away.”
“Finally, this will exacerbate existing concerns about privacy and infringing the owner’s rights to his or her own private space,” she noted.