The call for a ban on smoking at windows and balconies in residential homes made by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng in Parliament earlier this month has sparked the discussion among the public concerning about the effect of secondhand smoke and the right of smokers.
The discussion was also brought to the Channel News Asia’s Heart of the Matter podcast on Thursday (22 October), with Mr Ng and Dr Yvette van der Eijk from National University of Singapore (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health giving their own takes on why the legislation is required on this issue.
Speaking about the proposal he made, Mr Ng, who is also the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment explained that he believes “a middle ground” can be found to protect the rights of smokers as well as the right of non-smokers.
“That’s why I’ve been pushing for a ban on smoking near windows and at the balconies, so that smokers can still smoke in their house but away from the windows and balconies, so that we can minimise not eliminate, but minimize the effects of second-hand smoke on the neighbours,” he said.
He also mentioned that at homes, the people can’t run away from secondhand smoke because “you really are trapped in space where you spend the majority of our time”, as compared with when the people are at the public spaces, the non-smokers can just move away if affected.
While referring to the data of death cases due to secondhand smoke – that he used in Parliament speech – he noted that the recorded death “could be a tip of the iceberg” and “could be a larger number of there”.
To recap, Mr Ng mentioned in his Parliament speech that in 2016, alone, 383 people in Singapore died due to secondhand smoke, which is about one person dying every single day.
On this, he said that the problem is “actually on the rise” because when everybody is at home currently given the new normal work-from-home, the people are “facing a whole day of secondhand smoke”.
“Couple that, now with everybody facing secondhand smoke in their homes, and you can see that the number of cases they’ve gone to the Community Mediation Center (CMC) is quadruple over the last few months,” he remarked.
The exposure level of secondhand smoke in high-density housing, multi-unit blocks is high
Moving on, Dr Yvette who contributed her perspective about the health implications of secondhand smoke, noting that the secondhand smoke is more dangerous for health because “it is not burnt as completely as the smoke that smokers inhale”.
“It has a lot more carcinogens and toxic compounds in it than the regular smoke,” she added.
Noting there is “no safe minimum level” of secondhand smoke, Dr Yvette said, this is especially for those who are already vulnerable to it such as young children and people with pre-existing lung conditions as they are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke.
According to Dr Yvette, the effect of secondhand smoke also depends on the level of exposure.
“In Singapore, especially this is a problem because everyone lives in such high-density housing, multi-unit blocks where, for example if one person is smoking by the window on the balcony, it’s going to waft up into multiple units above or surrounding that unit.
“For some people, it can be very hard to avoid and if you happen to have someone who was smoking a lot on their balcony or you have multiple people smoking from multiple units or from the same unit or whatever, then that level of exposure could actually be quite high,” she noted.
Usage of surveillance camera are “the extreme last resort measures for recalcitrant smokers”
Stressing that secondhand smoke is not a neighbourly dispute issue, Mr Ng recounted that some residents tried to talk to their neighbour to solve the problem, but it does not work.
“That’s why we need to legislate because this isn’t a neighbourly dispute issue which we keep going along that line. This really is a public health issue,” he said.
Dr Yvette concurred with Mr Ng’s view on making legislations, saying that it is a “two-pronged approach” which it can bring down the overall smoking prevalence in the country and also protect the people from secondhand smoke.
As Mr Ng had proposed to use surveillance camera to capture those smoking near balconies and windows, he said in the podcast that the usage of surveillance camera “are really the extreme last resort measures for recalcitrant smokers” if the proposed legislation was made.
“We hope that people will comply with the laws and the laws can be a deterrent and it’s [surveillance camera] a last resort,” he added.
Explaining on why this law enforcement is not considered as “intrusive”, Mr Ng highlighted that the key focus is “deterrence” as the law will be the there to deter people from committing an offence under the law and will not have an effect or being intrusive into what the people do at home.
“The vast majority of people I speak to, they are so against this, they think they were going to point a camera into everybody’s home, which is not going to be the case. It’s pointed at the ground floor and pointing at the facade of the building at an angle, so that it doesn’t capture what you’re doing inside your house,” he explained.
He noted, “We can find a middle ground solution, which is said that you can still smoke in your house, but the legislation should try and minimize the effects of second-hand smoke on your neighbours.”
Netizens divided on the issue with some supporting the call, others complained there is too much restrictions
Penning their thoughts on the Facebook page of CNA, the netiznes seem to be divided on the issue with some welcoming the law and urging the authorities to take action while others complaining that there is too much restrictions for smokers, and why not the Government just ban the sales of cigarettes.
Some of the netizens who supported the proposal shared about how they are being affected by the secondhand smoke. Calling the smokers “selfish”, they said that even after closed all the windows of their homes, they can still smell the cigarettes smokes. Hence, the “deterrence through legislation is the answer” to protect people from secondhand smoke and save them from the ill effects of smoking.
On the other side, a bunch of netizens felt that if the secondhand smoke problem is so bad, the Government should just ban the sales of cigarette, rather than “restrict this, restrict that and even at their own home”.
Meanwhile other netizens questioned that why the people want to control what others do in their home and said that this is the “personal right of smokers to smoke in their homes”. They expressed that the people need to “learn to be tolerate of others” or else it will “create divisions” with those complaints.