Not many takers for Nee Soon South smoking 'sheds'

Volunteer anti-smoking advocates Irene Tan, 50 (left), and Fanny Oei, 43, giving out flyers near Nee Soon South Community Club. They are among 20 volunteers helping to raise awareness about the smoke-free zone.
Volunteer anti-smoking advocates Irene Tan, 50 (left), and Fanny Oei, 43, giving out flyers near Nee Soon South Community Club. They are among 20 volunteers helping to raise awareness about the smoke-free zone.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Smokers in Nee Soon still prefer lighting up in open; Volunteers not giving up

Two  weeks into the new smoke-free zone in Nee Soon South, Singapore's first to be led by the grassroots, smokers are still not budging.

When resident volunteers trained by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) took to the streets for the first time on Thursday night to cajole smokers into using the six smoking "sheds" rather than puff away in the open, some listened out of politeness while others scurried away from them.

Sporting T-shirts emblazoned with "I Love Quitters" on the front, four middle-aged volunteers - all non-smokers - gamely made their way around Nee Soon South Zone D's 28 blocks to speak to smokers.

The smoke-free zone covers communal spaces in the area, including Yishun Stadium and Yishun Sports and Recreation Centre. It is part of a one-year pilot that may be extended throughout Nee Soon South if residents support it.

On Thursday, the volunteers chatted to smokers, told them about the new smoke-free initiative, and gently tried to direct them to the designated smoking areas. They also passed them HPB booklets with tips on how to quit the habit.

Smokers, however, said they wanted the right to smoke wherever they wanted in the open, as long as it was legal.

Said student Maslina Ali, 21, who was smoking in one of the sheds. "I'm only using it because I happened to be here. If I'm not near one, I will just smoke if I have to smoke."

A nationwide smoking ban was expanded a year ago to include areas such as covered walkways and common areas of residential buildings. Those who flout the law may be fined up to $1,000.

Smokers in Nee Soon South Zone D, however, will not be penalised for not using the smoking areas.

Plumber Chong Kiang Wah, 42, who smokes a packet of cigarettes a day, took the time to listen to the volunteers but quickly walked to a nearby carpark to finish smoking "in peace".

"Were they trying to fine me?" he asked this reporter. "I just ate dinner nearby. Why would I walk all the way (to the shed) to smoke?"

"Nowadays, we smokers have nowhere to smoke," he added.

Teacher Juliana Lim, in her 50s and one of the volunteers, remained hopeful.

She said: "It does not matter. We cannot force people. Hopefully one day, they will change."

Engineer Narayanan Nair, 60, who is chairman of the area's residents' committee, said: "You have to try to get to know them, then they will give you a listening ear. Many of them actually do want to quit."

For a start, the 20 HPB volunteers will make their rounds in pairs twice a week to raise awareness about Nee Soon South's smoke-free zone.

davidee@sph.com.sg