Clear roadmap needed on journey to becoming smoke-free

There has been a flurry of rules against smoking in recent years (Stubbing out an unhealthy habit; Aug 1).

However, they seem to be ineffective in lowering Singapore's smoking prevalence to below 13.3 per cent among those aged 18 to 69.

In contrast, Hong Kong's daily smoking rate among those aged 15 and above has already been brought down to 10.5 per cent, as of 2015, an all-time low.

Much of Hong Kong's success can be credited to the tireless efforts of champion anti-tobacco advocate Dr Judith Mackay, and to the dedication of national agencies in acting on her advice.

Malaysia has also sought Dr Mackay's expertise, and invited her to visit in June.

The country aims to be smoke-free by 2045, and its Health Ministry has developed a year-by-year roadmap identifying what needs to be done each year to reduce smoking prevalence up to 2045.

In an interview during her visit, Dr Mackay mentioned that taxation is the most effective tool in tobacco control.

Research has shown its effectiveness in preventing smoking among lower-income groups and youngsters.

Singapore currently levies 71 per cent tax on the price of cigarettes. This is still below the 75 per cent benchmark set by the World Health Organisation.

At least 50 countries, many in Europe, impose even higher taxes.

Dr Mackay also pointed out that health education in schools has not proven effective in bringing down the prevalence of youth smoking.

She noted that we can tell which measures work, as they are the ones that the tobacco industry opposes - tax increases, plain packaging and smoke-free areas.

To ensure better results, Singapore would do well to consult experts like Dr Mackay and set a date for when we will be smoke-free.

Success is not measured by more periodic tweaks in laws. We need to see key performance indicators, focus on outcomes and accountability.

Liu I-Chun (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Clear roadmap needed on journey to becoming smoke-free'. Print Edition | Subscribe