Time to review thinking on tobacco control

A No Smoking Zone at Orchard Road.
A No Smoking Zone at Orchard Road.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

I came across news reports on the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decision to allow the sale of a new tobacco product, an electronic device that heats tobacco-filled sticks instead of burning them.

The FDA concluded that the product produces "fewer or lower levels of some toxins than combustible cigarettes".

This is an interesting development for the United States, where the FDA is cracking down on the use of e-cigarettes among youth.

This latest news appears to show that more governments and regulators across the world are taking a closer look at alternative tobacco products and assessing them based on merit and scientific evidence.

I question why the Singapore Government is closed off to a more transparent approach in enacting tobacco regulations. Last year, it decided to ban these products totally as a "precautionary measure". It did this without the same thorough review that the US FDA has conducted.

I find this hard to accept, being a smoker myself. There are already existing regulations against tobacco marketing in Singapore. I am sure we can regulate alternative tobacco products similarly if there is an open and comprehensive review of their harm and benefits to smokers.

As a consumer, I would like to see hard evidence by independent bodies that can help me make up my mind about these tobacco alternatives.

The Government is already progressively raising the minimum legal age for smoking, has prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and alternatives, and established a smoking ban along Orchard Road.

These measures will not have any effect on a smoker like myself, who has tried many times to quit.

I appeal to the authorities to review their thinking on tobacco control.

They might want to start by gaining a better understanding of smokers, why we still smoke and how we can quit.

Lyon Chua Wei Jie

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2019, with the headline 'Time to review thinking on tobacco control'. Print Edition | Subscribe