Nee Soon South's smoke-free zone slow to catch on

One of six designated smoking areas, each measuring 3m by 3m, in Nee Soon South Zone D, which is a community-led, smoke-free zone. They are located in open-air spaces such as grass patches.
One of six designated smoking areas, each measuring 3m by 3m, in Nee Soon South Zone D, which is a community-led, smoke-free zone. They are located in open-air spaces such as grass patches.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Smokers puff away outside designated smoking areas

The smoke-free signs were everywhere, but smokers were oblivious. Instead of lighting up at six designated smoking areas in the smoke-free zone, which spans 28 blocks in Nee Soon South constituency, many were puffing away outside these areas.

The designated smoking areas, each measuring 3m by 3m and located in open-air spaces such as grass patches, were empty when The Straits Times visited yesterday.

They were launched on Sunday by grassroots adviser Lee Bee Wah as part of Singapore's first community-led smoke-free zone, which covers communal spaces in Nee Soon South Zone D.

These include Yishun Stadium, Sports Hall and Recreation Centre, as well as residential blocks 816 to 849. But smokers will not be penalised if they smoke outside the designated points.

The initiative, supported by the National Environment Agency and Health Promotion Board, is part of a one-year pilot project that may be extended to other parts of Nee Soon South, depending on residents' feedback.

Seven of 11 smokers ST approached during lunch hour said the new initiative was "not practical" while the other four said they would comply.

"It's very inconvenient to go to those areas to smoke. I run my shoe shop alone and have to close it and that's bad for business," said Mr Peck Ah

Swee, 37, who was smoking outside his shop at Block 848, Yishun Ring Road.

Others, such as 59-year-old Morgan Shanmugam, said existing regulations that ban smoking in areas like covered linkways were sufficient. "Cars also emit black smoke, doesn't make a difference if we smoke," said the security officer, who was smoking by the side of the road.

The new initiative follows the extension of a smoking ban - effective one year ago - to include areas such as covered linkways and walkways and pedestrian overhead bridges. Those who flout the law may be liable to a fine of up to $1,000.

Technician Jeff Magaling, 26, said the initiative has helped curb his habit. He now smokes one cigarette a day, down from 10 before the smoke-free zone was established.

Non-smokers lauded the move, saying it could help reduce littering and second-hand smoke. Sales executive Alfred Ong, 30, said the designated points would keep smokers away from areas where they can influence youngsters to pick up the habit, such as basketball courts.

But housewife Lakshmi Anasuya Gangaraju, 42, felt harsher penalties were needed. She said her husband Krishna Sankar Pavuluri, a 42-year-old associate director, had asked a smoker to move from a congested walkway to a designated point on Sunday. But he was ticked off by the smoker. "If not strictly enforced, it will be of no use," she added.

Dr Lee, who is also MP for Nee Soon GRC, said: "If every resident can point smokers to the smoking areas and if smokers can do so responsibly so as not to affect non-smokers, the initiative will work."

audreyt@sph.com.sg