More fuming as work from home during Covid-19 brings second-hand smoke home

Gripes about smoking in residential areas up; MPs try to get smokers to be more considerate

Above: A smoker using the designated smoking point - a small shelter located a short distance away from residential blocks - at 850 Yishun Street 81 yesterday. Below: A hamper given to smokers who have been the subject of complaints in Senior Ministe
Above: A smoker using the designated smoking point - a small shelter located a short distance away from residential blocks - at 850 Yishun Street 81 yesterday. PHOTOS: JASON QUAH, SIM ANN
Above: A smoker using the designated smoking point - a small shelter located a short distance away from residential blocks - at 850 Yishun Street 81 yesterday. Below: A hamper given to smokers who have been the subject of complaints in Senior Ministe
Above: A hamper given to smokers who have been the subject of complaints in Senior Minister of State Sim Ann's Bukit Timah ward.PHOTOS: JASON QUAH, SIM ANN

Complaints about second-hand smoke in residential areas here have risen in recent months, with MPs taking various steps to address the issues.

Such feedback exceeded 2,500 reports a month for May and June, from below 2,000 monthly before, according to data from the Municipal Services Office (MSO).

Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann, who oversees the MSO, said the increase probably stems from more people working from home, the "new normal" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's very likely that people who used to smoke, primarily at the workplace, are now bringing the habit back to where they live," she said yesterday, adding that this is a widespread issue that many MPs are facing.

While smokers break no laws when they light up in their own homes, some smoke at stairwells or void decks, which is illegal.

Ms Sim added that the MSO is studying the issue closely, including assessing different solutions such as mediation or the community dispute resolution tribunal.

In the meantime, she has been looking at efforts in various estates, where MPs have been using various means to persuade smokers to be more considerate of the smoke affecting their neighbours.

In MP Carrie Tan's Nee Soon South ward, for example, 50 designated smoking points have been set up since 2017, when they were first implemented by her predecessor, Ms Lee Bee Wah. These are small shelters located on the ground floor a short distance away from residential blocks.

Mr Ng Hak Hai, chairman of Nee Soon South's clean and green committee, said that each of these designated smoking points costs about $8,000 but they are funded by public donations from individuals or businesses.

In recent weeks, some 200 to 300 cigarette butts have been collected at the more frequented smoking points, he said.

Ms Tan, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said the issue of second-hand smoke has been raised especially by younger families living in build-to-order Housing Board flats.

 
 
 
 

Apart from the smoking points, she has placed posters in lifts and areas at HDB blocks where there have been complaints.

The posters remind smokers that there are young children or babies in the vicinity and ask them not to smoke in the area.

Ms Tan said she will review the effectiveness of these initiatives after three months before deciding on the next steps.

In her own Bukit Timah ward, Ms Sim has been giving hampers since the circuit breaker period to smokers who have been the subject of complaints from their neighbours. The hampers come with healthy food such as fruit and nuts, and a letter from Ms Sim appealing to the smoker to consider the effects of smoke on his neighbours, and to encourage him to quit the habit.

Her team is also considering enclosed smoking points in the ward.

Both MPs said these were part of efforts to use gentler methods of "moral suasion", to raise awareness and persuade smokers before resorting to stronger measures.

"It's not always about the big stick of enforcement," said Ms Sim, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2020, with the headline 'More fuming as work from home brings second-hand smoke home'. Print Edition | Subscribe