Alternative products will work - only with cigarette ban

It is clear that Mr Mohammed Saleem Mohammed Ibrahim has the best of intentions in asking for the introduction of e-cigarettes into Singapore, under strict regulations, as a cessation tool to smokers (Allow e-cigarettes for smokers genuine about quitting; May 17).

However, we need to take a step back and analyse the smoking problem in Singapore in its entirety before deciding whether allowing e-cigarettes into our country would truly be a good thing.

The cost of smoking is high. There is the increased healthcare cost, loss of productivity with a consequent drop in gross domestic product and the cost of anti-smoking programmes to take into consideration, on top of the more obvious negative effects of smoking, such as deteriorating health.

In the same vein, ridding Singapore of cigarettes cannot be achieved by policy, regulation and state-run campaigns alone.

It requires a ground-up effort involving all Singaporeans pitching in to prevent people, especially our youth, from picking up smoking, helping current smokers quit and helping former smokers remain smoke-free. As an example, it has been suggested that industry-specific, employer-led smoking cessation efforts are potentially more effective compared with state-run smoking cessation campaigns alone.

Allowing smokers to use e-cigarettes as part of a smoking cessation effort may seem attractive on the surface. But developing research has shown that some e-cigarette liquids contain toxic chemicals. This automatically limits or even precludes their use as smoking cessation aids.

E-cigarettes and other alternative tobacco products like heat-not-burn devices are at best substitutes for cigarettes.

Admittedly, there is some independent research to show that they expose users to potentially less toxic chemicals compared with cigarettes, but this is still a developing science.

Even if the science proves to be true, allowing such alternative devices to be available here as a substitute to cigarettes can work only if we simultaneously ban cigarettes from Singapore and develop a robust system to prevent initiation and unintended use, especially among our youth. If not, we would just have introduced yet another addictive and health-harming product into Singapore.

Tan Kok Kuan (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 27, 2018, with the headline 'Alternative products will work - only with cigarette ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe