Singapore and Malaysia began the new year by taking some significant steps against smoking. Here, a ban in the Orchard Road precinct kicked in, prohibiting smokers from lighting up in public areas except within designated spaces. The same day, the minimum legal age for smoking went up from 18 to 19. The age will be raised progressively every January until 2021, when smokers will have to be at least 21. Across the Causeway, a nationwide ban on smoking in public places has gained more teeth with the inclusion of all eateries and restaurants. Hefty fines and even imprisonment await smokers who flout the law there. Business owners, too, face deterrent punishment.
The seriousness with which the authorities view smoking, once considered a harmless pastime, is not in doubt. Smoking causes a range of diseases and saps both the physical and economic vitality of the addicted. According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills up to half of its users - a useful reminder for those who believe that untimely death awaits only a minority of users. Tobacco kills more than seven million people each year. More than six million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while about 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.