More complaints about noise and cigarette smoke during circuit breaker

The National Environment Agency has been getting more complaints about smokers since the circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7. Some MPs have also been getting e-mails from residents seeking help to resolve neighbour disputes relating to smok
The National Environment Agency has been getting more complaints about smokers since the circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

With families cooped up at home, friction between neighbours has also increased.

Aside from the usual complaints about noise pollution, a key source of unhappiness is cigarette smoke, as smokers light up at home or in residential common areas such as corridors and stairwells.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has been getting more complaints about smokers since the circuit breaker measures kicked in on April 7. In the first four months of the year, NEA received 11,400 cases of feedback related to smoking, about 2,000 cases more than that during the same period last year. The increase was largely related to smoking in corridors, staircases and residential homes.

"Most of the increase in smoking feedback coincides with the imposition of circuit breaker measures, as residents are asked to stay at home to prevent the community spread of Covid-19 and the concentration of human activities shifts from workplaces to housing estates and homes," an NEA spokesman told The Straits Times.

Some readers have written to ST lamenting about noise and smoke coming from their neighbours' units since the circuit breaker period began.

One reader, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tang, said her family has been disturbed by their next-door neighbour who has been hammering and knocking in her unit every day.

The hammering can start at 7am and go on till 2am or 3am, said Mrs Tang, 50, who lives in a four-room Housing Board flat in Hougang Street 51 with her husband and two grown-up children.

"No one in my family can get a good sleep at night and now my children need to work from home and they can't concentrate on their work," Mrs Tang said in Mandarin.

The police confirmed that the family made a report against their neighbour on May 21.

"Police came and said there's nothing they could do. My daughter wrote to HDB and an officer replied to say they are unable to conduct any site inspection during the circuit breaker period," said Mrs Tang, who is self-employed.

Some MPs have also been getting e-mails from residents seeking help to resolve neighbour disputes relating to smoke and noise.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh said: "These problems are seen islandwide. Among colleagues we talk about it. I have been getting e-mails from residents. Generally, there are more new cases complaining of noise from neighbours."

HARD TO SLEEP OR WORK

No one in my family can get a good sleep at night and now my children need to work from home and they can't concentrate on their work.

MRS TANG, a Straits Times reader whose family has been disturbed by a neighbour who has been hammering in her unit every day. The hammering can start at 7am and go on till 2am or 3am, said Mrs Tang, 50, who lives in a four-room Housing Board flat in Hougang Street 51 with her husband and two grown-up children.

BEING CONSIDERATE

We try to explain to the neighbours that it's important to be considerate. At this time, everybody needs to support one another.

ANG MO KIO GRC MP GAN THIAM POH

Mr Gan said he has been getting about two such e-mails a week since the circuit breaker started. The MP said he would get the town council to visit the residents involved.

"I am sure nobody wants to disturb his neighbour, but sometimes unconsciously, you may have created the noise," said Mr Gan. "We try to explain to the neighbours that it's important to be considerate. At this time, everybody needs to support one another."

He said residents have also sought his help to stop second-hand smoke blown into their homes from their neighbours' units, but it is challenging to stop people from smoking within their homes.

"We can only advise them to avoid smoking at their windows."

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng thinks there is nothing residents can do now, other than shutting their windows to prevent smoke from being blown into their homes.

"We shouldn't stop someone from smoking at home, but we should stop them from smoking at their windows," said Mr Ng, who was one of several MPs who had urged the Government to take action against smokers whose second-hand smoke affects their neighbours.

"These people smoke at their kitchen window or balcony to prevent their family members from being affected by the smoke; instead, their neighbours are affected by their second-hand smoke," said Mr Ng. He feels that it is a perennial issue that should be addressed soon, since working from home is going to be the new normal.

NEA said it has been working with the relevant authorities and the respective town councils "to encourage smokers to be considerate to their neighbours and smoke away from the windows". It has also taken 50 enforcement actions for high-rise littering of cigarette butts in the first quarter of this year.

Face-to-face mediation sessions have been temporarily suspended at the Community Mediation Centre, but its officers are using tele-conciliation to guide parties over the phone. The helpline to call is 1800-2255-529.


Rules on smoking during circuit breaker

Smokers are not allowed to leave their homes just to light up as smoking is not an essential purpose.

Under circuit breaker rules, one can leave his home only for essential purposes such as to work in essential services or to buy food.

So, if someone is out for an essential purpose and needs to, he may smoke in an area where smoking is not prohibited.

 
 
 

Smokers can remove their masks to smoke but they would need to put their masks back on immediately after smoking.

They should observe all safe distancing rules such as keeping at least 1m from others and they should not socialise with other smokers.

Currently, all smoking areas in Singapore, such as those in coffee shops and hawker centres, are closed.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) website also states that all designated smoking areas in the Orchard Road No Smoking Zone are closed.

Smokers may light up in their cars as long as their windows are fully wound up and no second-hand smoke is expelled into smoking-prohibited places.

Smoking is prohibited in places such as common corridors, void decks, staircases and covered walkways of residential estates, and littering is an offence.

NEA will continue enforcement of safe distancing and smoking prohibition during the circuit breaker period.

The fines for smoking and violation of safe distancing measures are $200 and $300, respectively.

In addition, second-time offenders of the safe distancing measures will face a $1,000 composition fine, or prosecution in court for egregious cases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2020, with the headline 'More complaints about cigarette smoke and noise from neighbours'. Subscribe