New approach to combat smoking habit

I was intrigued by two letters (Price and access are key to stub out smoking problem by Mr Seah Yam Meng; and Enlightened approach needed for a smoke-free Singapore by Mr Mohammed Saleem Mohammed Ibrahim; both published on Nov 6).

While both letters were seemingly opposed in their approach to this health problem, both writers agreed on one crucial thing - we need a new approach to get more people off a dirty and dangerous habit.

Short of an outright ban, the Singapore Government has tried everything to curb the habit.

Our "gory" cigarette packages have become souvenirs and taxes on tobacco have reached such a level that more than 60 per cent of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes is tax.

Yet people continue to find ways to fund and indulge this dirty and dangerous habit.

So, rather than approach the problem like a butcher, it is time we approach the problem like a surgeon.

So far, the fight against tobacco has been aimed at the segment of people who may be scared off by gory images or those who feel the pinch to their pockets.

However, we need to acknowledge the stubborn segment that remains hopelessly addicted to the habit despite the full knowledge of what can happen to them and the fact that the habit is burning a hole in their pockets.

The answer is clear - give this segment an alternative.

We should not rule out working with tobacco companies.

The debate on alternative products is not about whether they are safer than actual cigarettes but on whether they are as safe as the tobacco companies claim they are.

The answer to this debate is to get the tobacco companies to prove their claims on alternative products.

Governments have the power to ensure that the tobacco companies prove their science with independent and credible sources.

Once they can do that, we can move towards eliminating cigarettes.

Tang Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2018, with the headline 'New approach to combat smoking habit'. Print Edition | Subscribe