Deterrent policies introduced by nations around the globe to curb smoking

Workers rolling cigarettes in an Indonesian factory. To curb the vice, the tobacco excise tax will be raised next month. PHOTO: REUTERS
Workers rolling cigarettes in an Indonesian factory. To curb the vice, the tobacco excise tax will be raised next month. PHOTO: REUTERS

Given the health hazard posed by smoking and the peer pressure on youth to "act cool", deterrent action, like the Singapore Government's move to raise the minimum age for the purchase of cigarettes, has been implemented by countries around the globe.

On Jan 1 this year, the Republic raised the minimum age for smoking to 21, from 20.

In the United States, federal law set the minimum age at 21 on Dec 20, 2019, up from 18, after legislation was passed.

In Thailand, the minimum age is 20, and in the Philippines it is 18.

In Thailand, the legal age was raised from 18 in 2017.

In the Philippines, however, despite calls to raise the legal age, a strong tobacco lobby has convinced politicians to maintain the status quo.

Malaysia and Australia have kept the minimum age at 18, while it is 20 in Japan.

A proposal by the Ministry of Health to raise the smoking age in Malaysia to 21 appears to have been quietly shelved, while campaigns to set a higher age barrier in Australia have not been able to convince politicians.

China, which is estimated to consume 40 per cent of the world's cigarettes, has also set the age at 18.

An estimated 100 million people died from smoking in the 20th century - most of them in high-income countries - and estimates suggest that one billion people could perish in the current century, the bulk in low-to middle-income countries.

Around one in five adults around the world is a smoker and, globally, 15 per cent of deaths are attributed to the habit.

The second-hand smoke exhaled by smokers also kills, with the Global Burden of Disease study published in the Lancet medical journal indicating that while seven million people died due to smoking in 2017, another 1.2 million perished from toxic second-hand fumes.

The good news is that death rates from smoking have fallen.

A decline was seen from 146 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 90 per 100,000 in 2017.

The trend was seen worldwide, as more people avoided the vice, with better public awareness and more health consciousness.

Policies aimed at increasing the minimum age for smoking are grounded in strong scientific evidence.

Studies show that nearly 90 per cent of adults who smoke on a daily basis had their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and the transition from tobacco experimentation to regular use typically occurs during young adulthood.

Young adults are also seen as the primary role model for teens.

Capitalising on this, the tobacco industry heavily markets its products to young adults.

Policies to limit younger people's access therefore help to prevent experimentation with tobacco from becoming an addiction.

But moves to raise the minimum age for smoking often attract vocal opposition.

One argument is that doing so will adversely affect small businesses. Another complaint is that it will be difficult to enforce.

Tobacco firms seem to have a major role in the recalcitrant stance, pumping money into studies rejecting the link between smoking and cancer as well as heart disease, and lobbying to ensure that their businesses continue to thrive.

Nevertheless, policymakers have resorted to progressively higher taxation and bans on smoking in public, in addition to increased age requirements, to curb the dangerous habit.

Experts say preventing smokers from indulging in public is more likely to make them try to quit.

But countries like the US, where lawmakers were willing to sign up to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), have not all been willing to ratify the agreement.

Some countries did not sign up to the FCTC, recognising the tax revenue coming into government coffers from cigarette addiction.

Conscientious objectors have noted that in countries such as Australia and Pakistan, legislation at sub-national or state levels is often far more stringent than at the federal stage.

National-level restrictions exist in some countries, such as Turkey.

Pertinently, one study of bartenders observed prompt improvements in lung function after indoor smoking bans were enacted.

Thankfully, more and more lawmakers have now taken cognisance of the stark reality that smoking kills, with youth particularly vulnerable, and are implementing new policies to encourage people to kick the butt.

Studies show that nearly 90 per cent of adults who smoke on a daily basis had their first cigarette by 18 years of age and the transition from tobacco experimentation to regular use typically occurs during young adulthood.