NEA officers get more powers to investigate smoking violations

A designated smoking area in front of Far East Plaza. NEA has been given the power to officially designate Orchard Road as a non-smoking zone, as the precinct prepares to ban public smoking by the end of the year.
A designated smoking area in front of Far East Plaza. NEA has been given the power to officially designate Orchard Road as a non-smoking zone, as the precinct prepares to ban public smoking by the end of the year.ST FILE PHOTO

Officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be able to enter smoking-prohibited places without warrants to investigate smoking violations, and it will be illegal to obstruct or prevent them from collecting evidence.

NEA was also given the power to officially designate Orchard Road as a non-smoking zone, as the precinct prepares to ban public smoking by the end of the year.

In presenting the amendments to the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, which were passed yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said the increased powers for officers were needed to ensure that NEA could effectively maintain Singapore's smoking bans.

Dr Khor said: "Currently, to investigate complaints about smoking violations, NEA enters and inspects the premises with the manager's consent. While most have been cooperative, some managers have hindered investigations by denying NEA's authorised officers entry into their premises, which prevents timely, effective investigation and enforcement."

She also said Orchard Road would be the only geographical area in Singapore marked as a smoke-free zone for now. The authorities will assess if it is successful before extending the concept elsewhere.

Seven Members of Parliament spoke in favour of the Bill, though all of them urged the Government to take stronger action against smokers in residential flats whose second-hand smoke affects their neighbours.

NO SMOKING AT HOME?

Such an intrusive regulatory approach to tackling neighbourly issues could ultimately be even more detrimental to community harmony.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR HEALTH AMY KHOR, on the suggestion to prohibit smoking in one's own home.

 
 
 

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said: "It would seem at odds to protect people from second-hand smoke in the public areas where they spend less time and not protect them at home where they spend more time."

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) gave the example of how one of her residents was affected by neighbours chain-smoking in the corridors, forcing her to turn on the air-conditioning in her home for the sake of her young children.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) suggested making it illegal for smoke to drift out of one's home, saying: "They should not be standing near the windows, doors or corridors to smoke. If smoke is detected outside of the flat, the resident should then be considered to have violated the law."

In response, Dr Khor cautioned against intruding into people's private homes in this realm.

"If we were to prohibit smoking in one's own home, it would inevitably entail bringing to bear the necessary investigation and enforcement powers," she said. "Such an intrusive regulatory approach to tackling neighbourly issues could ultimately be even more detrimental to community harmony."

Dr Khor said the Government has in fact seen a decrease in reports of second-hand cigarette smoke drifting into other residents' homes.

Many MPs also raised concerns over how the Bill would be enforced effectively.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked what measures the ministry has taken to facilitate enforcement, and make it more efficient.

Responding, Dr Khor talked about the use of technology such as thermal cameras, for which the Government has called a tender. She also said that friends and family members of smokers should fully support them if they are trying to quit.

She said: "Enforcement is necessary, but not the silver bullet. Instead, our deeper aim is to foster social norms that promote health and well-being."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'NEA officers get more powers to investigate smoking violations'. Print Edition | Subscribe