SINGAPORE - The minimum legal age for smoking will be raised from 18 to 21 years old, in a bid to reduce, if not eliminate, the opportunities for youths here to light up.
The Ministry of Health will propose legislative changes to Parliament within a year to bring about this new restriction, which will cover the sale of tobacco to under-21s, as well as the purchase, use and possession of tobacco products by them.
Speaking during the debate in Parliament on the ministry's budget on Thursday (March 9) , Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said that many smokers here pick up the habit before they turn 21.
"We want to protect our young from the harms of tobacco, and lay the foundation for good health," said Dr Khor.
MP Louis Ng (Nee Soon) had asked about the outcomes of recent public consultations on tobacco control measures.
Mr Ng, who quit smoking in 2013, noted that smokers have a hard time kicking the habit. The public consultations, which were held from December 2015 and March 2016, yielded feedback that showed considerable support for raising the minimum legal age for smoking in Singapore, said Dr Khor.
The new restriction will be phased in over a few years, and follows some parts of the United States and countries such as Sri Lanka, which have enforced such a law.
Studies have backed the benefits of raising the minimum legal age.
For instance, the brains of adolescents are more sensitive to the addictive temptation of nicotine, which is found in cigarettes. This makes youths more susceptible to getting hooked, and making it harder for them to quit later in life.
In Singapore, two in three underaged smokers obtain their tobacco from friends and schoolmates, according to the recent Student Health Surveys (2014 - 2016).
The new measure is aimed at shrinking the pool of legal buyers in a youth's social circle. This would limit their access to tobacco and reduce peer pressure.
Dr Khor added that a further public consultation will be done on standardised packaging measures for cigarettes. "We will continue to monitor international best practices in tobacco control and will adopt appropriate measures to control tobacco use."