Use better indicators to track success of anti-smoking campaigns

I applaud the Health Ministry's (MOH's ) firm stand against smoking (MOH to look at more ways to cut smoking and high sugar intake; May 12).

Success in reducing the number of smokers should not be judged by tobacco control measures but rather by more meaningful outcome-focused indicators.

First, if our approach to combat tobacco is effective, we should see a reduction in the annual tobacco duty collected, which has been over $1 billion every year, instead of a 2.2 per cent increase last year over $1.1 billion in 2016.

While the increase in this duty collected could be attributed to population growth and an increase in average tobacco consumption per smoker, it seems there is still room for improvement in campaigns and rules to discourage smoking.

Second, new tobacco licence approvals should drop in tandem with the total number of licensed retailers.

Instead, 648 tobacco retail licences were approved last year, compared with the 325 licences approved in 2012, according to the Health Sciences Authority's 2016/17 annual report.

The massive amounts of cigarette butts littered all over Singapore is another indication that all is not well in our tobacco control efforts.

The National Environment Agency needs to up its game in emulating the Land Transport Authority's strict enforcement of traffic and parking regulations.

It is also important to note that the 13.3 per cent smoking rate may not be reflective of the actual prevalence of smoking as the figure includes only Singapore residents between the ages of 18 and 69, and does not include the 30 per cent non-residents and foreigners numbering 1.65 million here.

MOH should devise better performance indicators in these areas to more accurately track its tobacco control efforts.

Liu I-Chun (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'Use better indicators to track success of anti-smoking campaigns'. Print Edition | Subscribe