The Government is aiming to bring the smoking rate to below 10 per cent by 2020, Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health, said yesterday.
The rate was 18.3 per cent in 1992, dropping to 12 per cent in 2004. Since then it has hovered at 12 to 14 per cent. Last year, it was down to 12 per cent, the lowest rate so far.
The 2020 target had been set at 10 per cent in 2012, but was revised to 12 per cent in 2014.
Speaking at a student engagement session in conjunction with today's World No Tobacco Day, Mr Amrin described the 10 per cent target as "ambitious" and admitted that it was "somewhat of a stretch".
But he was confident that a number of steps taken recently would help cut down the number of smokers.
"It is not a single measure that will ensure success... It has to be comprehensive, targeted measures that work in tandem," he said.
He cited measures such as raising the minimum legal age for smoking in stages from the current 18 years to 21 in 2021, and expanding the list of smoke-free places.
A new social media campaign to educate youth on the harmful effects of tobacco use and healthier alternatives to smoking, such as exercising and picking up a new hobby, will be launched by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) in the second half of this year, he said.
About 80 students yesterday visited the Health Sciences Authority's Cigarette Testing Laboratory to learn about the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, of which at least 400 are poisonous to humans. The laboratory has found that a cigarette sold here produces two to 725 times more toxicants than the limits found in other hazardous substances.
Non-smokers are not spared, with at least 60 cancer-causing chemicals identified in second-hand smoke, the World Health Organisation has reported.
Student Ms Ang, 19, said yesterday's visit made her think twice about continuing smoking. She has tried to quit several times since picking up the habit last year, but found it hard to do so. "On the Internet, it says that smoking is harmful, but it doesn't go into details about how many toxic chemicals are in cigarettes," she said.
Smoking is the second-highest contributor to the burden of diseases afflicting Singaporeans, killing an estimated 2,073 people in 2016. It causes heart attacks, stroke, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Smoking costs Singapore at least $600 million a year in direct healthcare costs and lost productivity.
Last year, about 70,000 young people were engaged by HPB's prevention and cessation efforts, which includes its Student Health Advisers and QuitLine, said Mr Amrin.
A study done by the Singapore Cancer Society earlier this year found that many young people started smoking before the age of 18.
It surveyed 1,000 adults aged 18 to 24, and found that more than half of the 534 smokers and ex-smokers in the group took their first puff between the ages of 15 and 17.
In the same group of smokers and ex-smokers, 40 per cent started smoking even earlier, between the ages of 12 and 14.
More than 60 per cent of the 207 ex-smokers in the survey gave up the habit because of health awareness and anti-smoking campaigns.