New smoking rules prompt changes in universities; experts say ban is step in right direction

Health experts told The Straits Times that the ban will be helpful in getting people to think twice before lighting up.

SINGAPORE - The latest measures to widen the smoking ban at tertiary institutes will spur schools to do more to discourage smoking, although most are already smoke-free campuses. Experts also reassure that the ban is a productive effort.

Students and staff at autonomous universities and private educational institutions in Singapore had been given further smoking restrictions by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

On Tuesday (Sept 26), the agency announced that it will extend the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act to outdoor areas of universities and private institutions, though it will be allowed at designated smoking areasin places where smoking was not previously prohibited. There will also be no smoking within 5m from pre-schools, madrasahs, junior colleges and polytechnics.

In addition, there is a total smoking ban in excursion buses, trishaws, and private-hire cars under Grab and Uber, including ride-sharing services like GrabShare and UberPool.

These come into effect on Sunday (Oct 1).

In response, Singapore Management University said it will be removing all designated smoking areas on campus by the start of next year.

Nanyang Technological University plans to introduce "smoking cessation programmes for students and employees" and to have "a limited number of designated outdoor smoking areas".

The National University of Singapore, Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) and PSB Academy have declared themselves smoke-free campuses since 1998, 2005 and 1997 respectively, and thus expect limited changes.

"The ban would have minimal impact on us as we are already practising a smoke-free zone within the campus," said Ms Jesline Wong, director of communications at MDIS.

Health experts told The Straits Times that the ban will be helpful in getting people to think twice before lighting up.

Dr Munidasa Winslow of Promises Healthcare said: "Serious smokers in universities won't stop smoking just because of the ban, but most research already shows that the more touchpoints are in place and the more times you get reminded to stop smoking, the more likely you will think twice about it."

Experts also said the ban is the right way to go, even if the median age for smoking was 16 in 2013, well below the age of university students.

Dr K. Thomas Abraham, chief executive officer of Sata Commhealth, said: "If they start smoking at an early age, it is mostly experimentation because their parents and friends do it too. They start to get serious at 18 and older, when they are in polytechnics or universities.

"So the ban is effectively targeting the right people."

Meanwhile, smokers on campus feel that the ban might be doing more harm than good.

"If they ban us from the outdoor areas, we will just have to find other ways to smoke. If we do that, then it is more dangerous for the non-smokers also. It just makes life more difficult for everyone," said Mr Gabriel Ong, 25, a communications student from the Singapore Institute of Management.

An NEA spokesman has said that officers who conduct their regular patrols and spot smokers lighting up in the newly prohibited areas will take action against them. Operators and managers of smoke-free premises are also required by law to request patrons who smoke stop smoking or leave the premises.

Members of the public should also report violations to operators and premises managers, whenever possible, said the NEA. In public places where there is no specific managing agent to deal with violators, they can contact NEA at 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255 632) to file a report.

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