Enlightened approach needed for a smoke-free Singapore

By 2020, cigarettes will come in standardised cigarette packaging with graphic health warnings covering at least 75 per cent of the packet (Plain packaging planned for cigarettes; Nov 1).

This is not a new measure. In 2003, the Government introduced regulations that required pictorial health warnings on all cigarette packages. Health warnings were required to cover 50 per cent of the front and 50 per cent of the back of all packages. New sets of warnings were enforced in 2006 and 2013.

Interestingly, since 2013, our smoking prevalence has reached a plateau of around 13 per cent and this rate has not decreased for the past five years. The latest move is unlikely to bring it down any further.

While it is laudable that the Government has spared no effort in its inexorable pursuit to reduce the smoking rate, what we really need are bold measures to stamp out this menace.

There should be greater engagement with family members of smokers who can play a pivotal role in providing moral support for smokers who have decided to quit.

Another enlightened approach would be to revisit the ban on e-cigarettes. Public Health England has stated that such "heat not burn'' products are almost 95 per cent safer than combustible cigarettes, making them a safer option for smokers who genuinely want to quit the habit.

Under a regulated environment, such alternative products can be used as quitting aids. Dispensing e-cigarettes in a regulated environment would also obliterate the "gateway effect'' for youngsters experimenting with e-cigarettes.

It is high time to move away from the ideological position of being anti-cigarettes to a more tolerant one where help is given to wean the smoker from cigarettes.

Mohammed Saleem Mohammed Ibrahim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Enlightened approach needed for a smoke-free Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe