Cigarettes may have less nicotine in future

Since 2013, the proportion of smokers among those aged 18 to 69 in Singapore has stayed relatively constant at around 13 per cent.
Since 2013, the proportion of smokers among those aged 18 to 69 in Singapore has stayed relatively constant at around 13 per cent. PHOTO: ST FILE

Health Ministry tracking US efforts to lower level of the addictive drug in each cigarette

Cigarettes sold in Singapore may contain less nicotine in future, with the Ministry of Health (MOH) saying it is monitoring efforts in the United States to reduce the amount of the addictive drug allowed in each cigarette.

The possible move comes four years after Singapore limited the nicotine and tar yields in each cigarette to 1mg and 10mg respectively.

But it is still unclear if lowering nicotine has had any impact on reducing the lure of cigarettes here.

Since 2013, the proportion of smokers among those aged 18 to 69 in Singapore has stayed relatively constant at around 13 per cent.

The US currently has not set a nicotine limit for cigarettes.

But last month, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it "plans to begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to non-addictive levels through achievable product standards". It did not say what level this might be.

Asked whether Singapore might follow in the US' footsteps, MOH said it is "committed to lowering smoking prevalence in Singapore".

NOT THE ANSWER

Some scientists have proposed that reducing the nicotine levels in cigarettes to less than 10 per cent in conventional cigarettes can make them less addictive... But this is far from making cigarettes non-addictive because any amount of nicotine can be addictive.

DR SEE KAY CHOONG, who heads the National University Hospital's division of respiratory and critical care medicine.

 

"We regularly study tobacco control approaches from around the world and will consider adopting suitable measures in Singapore," it said in reply to The Straits Times.

The US appears to be trying to go further than what is in place elsewhere in the world.

Since 2004, the European Union has allowed for a maximum of 1mg and 10mg for the nicotine and tar yields per cigarette respectively.

Doctors and smokers here have mixed views on whether lower nicotine levels in cigarettes would work in getting fewer smokers hooked.

"Some scientists have proposed that reducing the nicotine levels in cigarettes to less than 10 per cent in conventional cigarettes can make them less addictive by reducing the pleasurable effects of nicotine per cigarette smoked," said Dr See Kay Choong, who heads the National University Hospital's division of respiratory and critical care medicine.

"But this is far from making cigarettes non-addictive because any amount of nicotine can be addictive."

Another issue the FDA proposal sidesteps is the harmful effects of other toxins in cigarettes, such as those in tar.

Dr Loke Wai Chiong, Deloitte's South-east Asia healthcare sector leader, also raised the possibility of smokers lighting up more because of the reduced nicotine levels, in order to get the "nicotine high".

Mr Alex Loh, 39, a smoker of 23 years, said he does not mind smoking cigarettes with less nicotine.

"I use a filter... so it's fine with me," said the advertising platform specialist. A filter traps some tar and nicotine, though not the poisons from the cigarette smoke.

"But for those who smoke more, like two packs a day, sometimes they will smoke more because there is no taste, no 'feeling'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Cigarettes may have less nicotine in future'. Print Edition | Subscribe