Mindef reviewing therapies to help personnel stub out

An SAF personnel pledges to abstain from tobacco for 24 hours on World No Tobacco Day. It is part of an initiative under the SAF Smoking Cessation Framework.
An SAF personnel pledges to abstain from tobacco for 24 hours on World No Tobacco Day. It is part of an initiative under the SAF Smoking Cessation Framework.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

A review of nicotine replacement therapies is under way to help military personnel stub out cigarettes once and for all.

The review is part of a framework that the Singapore Armed Forces launched earlier this year to help its personnel stop smoking, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in an announcement timed to coincide with World No Tobacco Day, which falls today.

The review will involve military medical specialists assessing therapies recommended by the Health Promotion Board such as nicotine gum, inhalers and lozenges.

These methods try to control the urge to smoke and may be better suited for military personnel than nicotine patches, which Mindef now uses. The eventual choice will factor in soldiers' training and operational environments, a ministry spokesman said.

The new framework pulls together and strengthens existing initiatives such as counselling, punishments and medical aids to help full-time national servicemen (NSF) and regular personnel quit.

It will also ensure that Mindef is ready to help the growing number of underage smokers it will have under new laws, said the spokesman.

The Enlistment Act requires that all male Singaporeans and permanent residents be enlisted for national service at the earliest opportunity when they turn 18.

That is a year shy of the new minimum age for smoking - 19 years - that kicks in at the start of next year. This will be raised progressively every January until 2021, when smokers have to be 21 before they can light up.

People who provide cigarettes and tobacco products to underage servicemen will be dealt with firmly, said the Ministry spokesman, adding that service personnel caught violating its smoking prohibition policy will face disciplinary actions under military law.

A study found that 14 per cent of NSFs who finished their stint in 2016 smoked, while 6.6 per cent said they quit because they were too busy to smoke and it was troublesome to find a place to light up.

Some also feared smoking would affect their physical performance.

To further drive down the number of smokers, the ministry wants to expand an outreach programme that started in 2011 and enlists the help of their colleagues.

So far, more than 200 people have been trained to talk to their colleagues about smoking's adverse effects and Mindef wants to double that number by 2021.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Peter Estrop, 58, who quit smoking in 2011 after attending a talk by a colleagues, said: "I was touched by the stories of ex-smokers... At that point, I 'woke up', and I decided to quit smoking for good."

He said quitting had not been easy, but advice to stay away from smokers and to focus on activities such as sports and reading had helped.

"The temptations stayed strong for months before I was able to quit and never ever light up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'Mindef reviewing therapies to help personnel stub out'. Print Edition | Subscribe