Keep personal choice in mind when making laws on smoking

It is a good idea to raise the legal age for smoking to 21, as many smokers started smoking when they were young (Minimum legal age for smoking to be raised to 21; March 10).

This age restriction complements other anti-smoking strategies, such as tobacco taxes, anti-smoking laws and tobacco prevention and cessation programmes.

Youngsters are more likely to make rash decisions. Smoking is a life-changing decision; they can make a better decision when they are older.

Picking up the addictive habit of smoking below that age means smoking becomes entrenched. This could make it harder for them to stop.

However, laws without strict enforcement are useless. Children under 18 still manage to get their hands on cigarettes, and people still smoke in no-smoking areas.

Some people may also argue that if an 18-year-old is liable for national service and is legally and culturally treated as an adult, he should be trusted, rather than have his autonomy undermined.

Hence, it would be more effective if the Government combines discussions about the effects of tobacco with an emphasis on personal responsibility and choice.

We should be mindful of the effect of taking away freedom of choice.

Health is certainly important and the effects of second-hand smoke must not be underestimated. But a cautious approach is essential, lest we be seen as treating our citizens like children.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Keep personal choice in mind when making laws on smoking'. Print Edition | Subscribe