Public feedback sought on tighter laws to govern tobacco use

Large anti-smoking banners hang on the exterior of the Bird's Nest stadium as tourists walk by in Beijing, China, May 30 2015.
Large anti-smoking banners hang on the exterior of the Bird's Nest stadium as tourists walk by in Beijing, China, May 30 2015.PHOTO: EPA

SINGAPORE - The Health Ministry (MOH) is asking for feedback on its proposals to raise the minimum legal age for smoking from 18 to 21, and tighten laws governing the use of imitation tobacco products such as e-cigarettes.

These changes will take the form of amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, which was last modified in 2016 to introduce the ban on displaying tobacco products within sight of customers.

The ministry's first proposal is for the minimum legal age to be progressively raised over three years after the Act has been amended. This means that it will go up to 19 after one year, then 20 after a second year, and finally 21 after a third.

"In Singapore, 95 per cent of smokers had their first puff before they reached 21 years old, and 83 per cent of smokers became regular smokers before they were 21 years old," said the ministry in a statement on Monday.

Apart from preventing people aged 18 to 20 from buying tobacco products, the proposed changes would also make it more difficult for young people to get cigarettes from their peers, it added.

The ministry is also planning to ban the purchase, use and possession of imitation tobacco products such as vaporisers and electronic nicotine delivery systems (Ends) - including e-cigarettes - and emerging products such as shisha and smokeless tobacco.

Currently, these products cannot be imported, distributed, or sold. However, there are no prohibitions on their purchase, use, and possession.

"As Ends and vaporisers are durable rather than consumable goods, illicit trade in these products may result in a sizeable pool of people who possess and use Ends and vaporisers in Singapore, leading to entrenchment," said MOH.

It added that similar legal loopholes currently exist for products such as shisha and smokeless tobacco.

A copy of the draft Amendment Bill is available on the MOH website at www.moh.gov.sg/tcasa2017, where people may also submit feedback using an online form.

They may also email the ministry at moh_qsm@moh.gov.sg or fax their opinions to 6224- 1677. Alternatively, they may send a letter to this address: Ministry of Health, TCASA Public Consultation, College of Medicine Building, 16 College Road, Singapore 169854. All feedback should reach MOH by 5pm on July 10.