Some call for ban on smoking at coffee shops

Smoking should be banned at coffee shops, urged several participants at a public consultation yesterday. They pointed out that the yellow line demarcating the smoking area does little to protect other patrons from second-hand smoke at such establishments.

This is just one of several suggestions that have been raised as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the National Environment Agency (NEA) consider whether to further restrict smoking.

The ministry's permanent secretary Choi Shing Kwok said that the aim was for a gradual move towards a smoke-free Singapore with designated smoking points, instead of having places where a ban is enforced.

During yesterday's consultation, around 20 participants, including grassroots volunteers and coffee shop operators, were asked to propose places where they thought smoking should be banned.

Parks, playgrounds and exercise areas were among the suggested places, while some said people should not be allowed to smoke even on their home balconies and at their windows, since second- hand smoke can still spread into neighbouring homes.

The NEA issued 17,000 tickets for smoking in prohibited areas last year. This was up from 9,400 tickets in 2013, when smoking in common areas in residential estates, covered walkways and overhead bridges was banned.

Although the consultation - attended by Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu - was meant to discuss the extension of the smoking ban, the conversation also revolved around preventing people from picking up the habit in the first place, and helping smokers quit.

Lung surgeon Koong Heng Nung, for example, proposed banning the sale of cigarettes to those born after a certain date.

Such a ban would not "ostracise" or "disenfranchise" current smokers, he said.

"Let's focus on the new generation of 'never-smokers'," he said.

Another participant, meanwhile, suggested mandatory counselling as a condition for people who want to buy cigarettes.

While the harmful effects of smoking are well established, the habit is not easy to kick, Ms Fu acknowledged.

She said: "We need to have a balance, while we move forward in making Singapore a more smoke-free country.

"It imposes cost on an individual and on the (healthcare) system... But is it negative enough to totally ban it? I think we haven't reached that point."

amirh@sph.com.sg