Use existing laws to tackle second-hand smoke: MP

Existing public nuisance laws can and should be used to deter smokers from lighting up near windows and at balconies, to minimise the effects of second-hand smoke on neighbours, said an MP yesterday.

Tapping the power of deterrence is one way to tackle second-hand smoke in residential areas without the need for new legislation, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said in Parliament. He chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said deterrence is effective only if there is a real chance of offenders getting caught.

She gave the example of Norfolk city in Virginia, the United States, where smoking was banned in public housing rental units in 2018 and non-compliance could result in the termination of a tenant's lease.

"The situation improved in the first month, but within a year, it reverted to what it had been previously as smokers resumed smoking at home. Why so? While the consequences were real, the chances of being caught were not," she said.

Mr Ng cited Section 43 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which he said empowers the National Environment Agency to "take any step necessary to remove nuisances of a public nature".

These nuisances, as defined in Section 44, include "the issue of any fumes, vapours, gases, heat, radiation or smells in any premises which is a nuisance or injurious or dangerous to health", he added.

"That sure sounds like second-hand smoke. Why is the Government not using this law to take a clear stance that smoking near windows and at balconies is illegal?" said Mr Ng.

Dr Khor said the law cannot be used to prohibit smoking near windows and at balconies as the law was enacted in the 1960s for the authorities to take quick mitigative action to arrest public nuisances from specific industrial activities and not for the purpose of dealing with smoking prohibition.

Last year, Mr Ng had called for a ban on residents smoking near windows or on the balconies of their homes, to which Dr Khor said such legislation would be "highly intrusive". Yesterday, Mr Ng emphasised that the call is not for smoking at home to be made illegal.

Rather, it is a call for the Government to use the existing law to deter smokers, which will work as Singapore is "generally a nation of law abiders", he said.

He noted that 383 people in Singapore died due to second-hand smoke in 2016, which is around one person a day, and the numbers have been growing each year.

Mr Ng suggested using the new LCD screens at HDB lift lobbies to start an awareness campaign.

Agreeing with Mr Ng, Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC), who is deputy chair of the GPC, said there is little anyone can do to legally stop someone from smoking at their window or balcony.

Dr Khor said the Government continues to look at emerging technology solutions and is also monitoring global approaches to tackle the issue.

Last Friday, the Ministry of National Development called for innovative solutions from companies that can help reduce second-hand smoke at its source or to prevent it from entering neighbouring units.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2021, with the headline 'Use existing laws to tackle second-hand smoke: MP'. Subscribe