Parliament: Smoking harder to catch than streaking, says Grace Fu

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said the frequency and nature of going in the buff and going for a puff were different. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Investigating the offence of a person being naked at home cannot be compared to enforcing against smoking near windows and at balconies of homes, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Monday (Jan 4).

"One can smell smoke even without having sight of the smoker, or the ability to pinpoint where the smoke is coming from," she explained in a written response to a parliamentary question filed by Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC). "But to impose a fine on the smoker, we need evidence to show the act of smoking, not merely the smell of the smoke.

"It will be challenging to track down the smoker or obtain evidence of an act of smoking being committed without rather intrusive methods given the current technology, affecting even the privacy of innocent neighbours."

Ms Fu added: "And such efforts may still be futile if the smoker hides behind a pillar, frosted glass windows or curtains to avoid detection...

"In contrast, a complainant would more easily pinpoint the location and capture evidence of a nude person exposing himself or herself to public view, to assist with investigation."

Mr Ng first called for a ban on smoking near windows or balconies at homes in early October last year.

He said then that while such a move might seem intrusive, there were already laws in place to police people's behaviour at home - like Section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, where one cannot bare it all - even in private - while exposed to public view.

In a Facebook post at the end of October, Mr Ng wrote: "Being naked in your own home doesn't kill your neighbour but second-hand smoke could."

Public health experts have said that in Singapore, more than 300 non-smokers die each year because of exposure to second-hand smoke.

But Ms Fu said the frequency and nature of going in the buff and going for a puff were different and should not be compared directly, while reiterating earlier responses in Parliament to Mr Ng on the practical challenges of investigating and enforcing not smoking in homes.

"A ban is not the silver bullet to this issue," she concluded. Still, Ms Fu assured Mr Ng that tackling second-hand smoke was a priority for her ministry, which is focused on encouraging individuals to practise greater social responsibility and facilitating conversations between neighbours.

"Furthermore, we are monitoring best practices globally and developments in technology and legislation," she said. "We will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts in protecting the public from second-hand tobacco smoke, and consider reasonable and practical solutions as they emerge to further strengthen these efforts."

Ms Fu also noted that smoking is today prohibited in more than 32,000 locations, including covered common areas right up to the doorstep of homes.

This includes - increasingly - hawker centres, in view of a long-term plan to transition them into completely smoke-free spaces, she said in a separate written response to Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson).

Since 2015, the Sustainability and Environment Ministry has required newly built and renovated hawker centres to be smoke-free.

Ms Fu said that as of December 2020, the number of them with smoking corners has been whittled down to 27 out of 114.

For these remaining establishments, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will engage the likes of hawkers' associations to progressively remove their smoking corners during opportunities such as repair and redecoration works, she said.

Ms Fu also noted that as of October, hawker centres undergoing NEA's Toilet Improvement Programme (TIP) could get up to 90 per cent funding if they remove existing smoking corners.

"I urge town councils to apply for the TIP to upgrade the hawker centre toilets and rescind smoking corners at the same time," said Ms Fu. "So that patrons can enjoy a pleasant dining environment at hawker centres."

This article has been edited for clarity.

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