Price and access are key to stub out smoking problem

The latest attempt to curtail smoking by changing the packaging is not only cosmetic but also unlikely to change the status quo (Plain packaging planned for cigarettes; Nov 1).

The concealed display of cigarettes, among other measures, sounds more like a halfhearted rather than serious attempt at discouraging smoking.

Raising the age limit of smokers also seems to look good only on paper rather than serve as any effective deterrent.

Judging by all the measures taken so far, it seems that the authorities are grossly underestimating the addictive nature of cigarette smoking and the extent that smokers will go to get their fix. The fact that most, if not all, smokers know the huge health risks they are undertaking but are helpless at kicking the habit shows the intractability of the problem.

It is clear that the only measures that are likely to have any noticeable effects are price and accessibility. It is not sufficient to dissuade someone from nicotine addiction by merely increasing smoking restriction zones or replacing bland images on packets with gory pictures when cigarettes are easily accessible or even affordable for the working class.

I used to have colleagues who would rather skip a meal than forgo a puff. Therefore, if the authorities are serious about discouraging smoking, they should consider reducing and limiting the number of outlets allowed to sell cigarettes.

Prices of cigarettes should also increase by 10 per cent every year till smokers are compelled to kick the habit when they realise that they are also burning a big hole in their pocket every time they light up.

For the sake of the health of smokers and those around them, I think drastic action to curb this undesirable habit is not only necessary but also urgent.

Seah Yam Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Price and access are key to stub out smoking problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe