Youth favour proposed anti-smoking regulations

The health authorities are looking at raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, banning the sale of flavoured tobacco products, using standard plain packaging and enhancing graphic health warnings.
The health authorities are looking at raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, banning the sale of flavoured tobacco products, using standard plain packaging and enhancing graphic health warnings.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Almost all 50 young people polled, including smokers, in favour of at least one proposal

The recently proposed anti-smoking regulations have been largely welcomed by young Singaporeans, with many believing the changes, if implemented, will deter them from picking up the habit.

The health authorities are looking at raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, banning the sale of flavoured tobacco products, using standard plain packaging and enhancing graphic health warnings. Already firm is the move to prevent the open display of cigarettes in shop shelves from next year.

Last month, the Health Promotion Board, along with the Ministry of Health and the Health Sciences Authority, began a 12-week public consultation exercise on the proposed rules.

Almost all 50 people, aged between 18 and 21, polled by The Sunday Times were in favour of at least one proposal. Half of them were smokers.

About three in four respondents said raising the legal smoking age to 21 could stop more people from starting the habit.

  • SINGAPORE'S BID TO BE NATION OF NON-SMOKERS

  • 1970: Smoking is banned in all cinemas and on buses.

    1971: Singapore becomes the first country in the world to ban tobacco advertising.

    1986: The National Smoking Control Programme is launched by the Ministry of Health in a bid to make Singapore a nation of non-smokers.

    1994: Smoking is banned in all air-conditioned private offices and factory floors.

    2004: Gory images begin to be displayed on cigarette packs to discourage people from lighting up.

    2012: The Blue Ribbon Movement is launched by the Health Promotion Board, letting organisations voluntarily declare their premises 100 per cent smoke-free.

    2013: The National Environment Agency extends the smoking ban to cover common areas in all residential buildings, outdoor areas of hospitals and in a 5m radius around bus stops.

    2014: Nee Soon South, a Yishun estate, becomes the first constituency to make all its public areas smoke-free.

    Dec 9, 2015: The Ministry of Health announces that retailers will no longer be allowed to display tobacco products in shops from 2017.

"I started smoking at 19 when a friend offered me a cigarette at a club. If the ban is implemented, I believe it will stop making cigarettes so easily available to young people," said polytechnic student Malcolm Teo, 20.

Full-time national serviceman (NSF) Gerald Koh, 19, said raising the legal age could also discourage NS recruits from taking up the habit. He said: "I started smoking last year during national service. Many of my friends did too. All of us faced some peer pressure to smoke.

"Should the higher age restriction be implemented, people who spot underage NSFs smoking in camp might be compelled to report them. This could discourage some people from trying smoking."

Some of those polled said raising the legal smoking age could potentially root out smoking from some educational institutions, as the students will be legally too young to light up. Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Jaclyn Low, 19, said: "My friends picked up smoking in polytechnic when they were 18 or 19.

"By raising the minimum smoking age to 21, most students in polytechnics won't be able to smoke any more."

Smoking is now banned in all polytechnic campuses here. Some schools, such as Temasek Polytechnic, also have in-campus health-promotion programmes that educate students on the hazards of smoking.

However, some of the proposed measures appear unpopular among young people, with the possible ban on flavoured cigarettes receiving the most flak. A polytechnic student, 19, who wanted to be known only as Mr Jeevan, said he started smoking two years ago in Secondary 5. "I don't understand why the Government wants to restrict the kind of cigarettes we can smoke," he said. "It feels like we are not the ones in charge of our own health."

Others said a ban could lead them to quit the habit.

Polytechnic student Lee Wee Kang, 20, said: "I will quit if they ban me from buying menthol cigarettes."

Several others polled were sceptical about the effectiveness of the proposed measures.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Lim Zhan Xuan, 21, said: "People can pick up smoking at any time. Even if the legal age limit is raised and cigarettes are packed in plain packaging, the measures would not stop them from lighting up if their mind is already set.

"Educating people about the risks of smoking would probably be more effective in the long run."

A university student, 21, who wanted to be known only as Ken, said he felt that the proposals came too soon.

"The Government had just banned the sale of shisha tobacco last year. For people like my friends and I who used to enjoy smoking shisha, that ban is still fresh in our minds. Proposing another four anti-smoking measures might deter young people from taking up smoking, but, for smokers like us, it feels like too much," he added.

Apart from young people, the proposed anti-smoking measures have received the thumbs up from parents and healthcare groups.

Dr K. Thomas Abraham, chief executive officer of Sata CommHealth, said: "Raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 can potentially make a great impact on whether a young person picks up smoking."

He added: "Youth aged 18 to 20 are more likely to experiment with a lot of things, including smoking, alcohol and drugs.

"But once they reach 21, they can reason better and understand the consequences better."

Mr Tay Hung Yong, manager of the Singapore Heart Foundation's Heart Wellness Centre, said: "The harmful effect of smoking is cumulative. The younger a person starts smoking, the higher the health risk."

Parents such as a 40-year-old office manager, who gave her name as Ms Dahlia, also support the proposals. The mother of an 18-year-old girl said: "The proposals should be put in place to stop youth from picking up smoking at a young age. Between 18 and 21, they are going through life changes and may be more susceptible to peer pressure to be 'cool'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Youth favour proposed anti-smoking regulations'. Print Edition | Subscribe