GPC calls for ban on smoking at windows or balconies at home

A smoking advisory at the stairwell of a Housing Board block in Yishun. Mr Louis Ng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Sustainability and the Environment, said the issue of second-hand smoke from neighbours has persisted over the
A smoking advisory at the stairwell of a Housing Board block in Yishun. Mr Louis Ng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Sustainability and the Environment, said the issue of second-hand smoke from neighbours has persisted over the years and become worse.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

A Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) has called for a ban on residents smoking at windows or balconies of their homes, to lessen the effects of second-hand smoke on neighbours.

Mr Louis Ng, chairman of the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment, said 383 people in Singapore died due to second-hand smoke in 2016. "That is about one person dying every day. We must do something," he said yesterday.

Speaking during an adjournment motion in Parliament, he said the GPC supports such a ban on residents in Housing Board flats and private homes. The motion lets MPs speak on a subject for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

Mr Ng said residents, including a mother whose baby has a lung infection, have raised the issue. Her neighbour smokes at midnight, and the smoke drifts into the room where she and the baby sleep.

Another resident wakes up in the middle of the night to close the windows so her elderly parents do not inhale second-hand smoke.

The issue has persisted over the years and become worse, Mr Ng said.

In the first four months of this year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) received 11,400 complaints related to smoking, a 20 per cent increase from last year, he said. The rise was mostly due to people smoking in or near homes.

With more people working from home, the number of cigarette-smoke disputes taken to the Community Mediation Centre has quadrupled, from two cases a month to eight cases, he said.

Residents have tried asking the authorities for help and seeking mediation, but have found such channels ineffective, Mr Ng added. "Even when MPs want to help, they cannot seek help from law enforcement because there is no relevant law or regulation to enforce."

The GPC's proposed ban will empower NEA officers to enforce what is now an advisory for residents, he added.

  • 11,400

    Number of complaints related to smoking received by the National Environment Agency in the first four months of this year, a 20 per cent increase from last year.

While this might be seen as intrusive, there are already laws that curb people's behaviour at home, like the law against nudity at home if others can see it, Mr Ng said.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said such legislation would be "highly intrusive" and there would be significant practical challenges in enforcement.

"This will exacerbate existing concerns about privacy and infringing the owner's rights to his or her own private space," she said.

Instead, the ministry will adopt a three-pronged approach - first, work to entrench new social norms and greater social responsibility.

Second, it will look at more ways to facilitate conversations between neighbours when dealing with difficult situations. Third, it will work with agencies to study how such disputes can be better addressed by the inter-agency community dispute management framework as well as review the community mediation process, said Dr Khor.

She added that of the 11,400 complaints linked to smoking in the first four months of this year, 58 per cent were in residential estates. Of these, 95 per cent were related to smoking in common areas such as staircases and corridors. Only 5 per cent involved smoking in homes.

NEA has prioritised surveillance in common areas and deployed thermal cameras at smoking hot spots. In the first half of this year, it took 2,400 enforcement actions in these areas - a 37 per cent increase from the same period last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2020, with the headline 'GPC calls for ban on smoking at windows or balconies at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe