Why It Matters

Stubbing out tobacco use

The ban on emerging tobacco products, which kicked in on Tuesday, is the latest move in a host of anti-smoking measures that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has introduced in recent years.

While these new products are not available in Singapore, action is being taken to prevent them from gaining a foothold here. E-cigarettes have also been banned under the Tobacco Act.

Youths are particularly vulnerable to smoking initiation through the use of such emerging products because of the products' novelty factor.

They could underestimate the harmful effects of dissolvable tobacco, which is compressed and made to look like candy.

And it has become so popular to "vape" - inhale and exhale vapour produced by an e-cigarette - that the word became Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year for 2014.

While smoking rates here have fallen from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 per cent in 2013, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor noted recently that smoking rates among young men are still high, and rates among young women are creeping up.

Last week, MOH also announced a ban on the display of tobacco products in shops by the end of 2017. This will lower the exposure of non-smokers and those trying to quit to tobacco advertising.

Detractors may question the efficacy of these moves, pointing out that they may spawn black markets for illegal products and incur compliance and enforcement costs.

Yet, these costs are minimal when one takes into account the fact that the annual social costs of smoking could be as high as $839 million, according to a 2002 study.

Singapore hopes to cut overall smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2020.

It may be hard, on a short time horizon, to fully appreciate the impact of these restrictive measures that may be burdensome for retailers.

But, come 2020 and beyond, the Government's attempts to stub out tobacco use will hopefully be felt in terms of significant healthcare savings and longer lifespans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Stubbing out tobacco use'. Print Edition | Subscribe