Cameras to be deployed to detect illegal smoking: 5 other innovative anti-smoking efforts

The National Environment Agency's surveillance cameras can detect lit cigarettes both during the day and the night, and will capture images of the offender as well as the date and time. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) has announced its intention to deploy surveillance cameras capable of detecting illegal smoking around Singapore.

The tamper-proof thermal cameras will be deployed in areas where the prohibition on smoking is regularly flouted.

They can detect lit cigarettes both during the day and the night, and will capture images of the offender as well as the date and time.

Here are five other innovative efforts to stop or discourage smoking from around the world.

1. United States: Nicotine and marijuana smoke detector

Guests smoking in non-smoking hotel rooms have long been a bane of hotel operators. "No Smoking" signs are not always effective and, for obvious reasons, a hotel cannot deploy cameras inside rooms.

A chemistry professor from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire came up with a solution in 2014: a smoke detector designed to catch smokers of both tobacco and marijuana.

Known as AirGuard, the device comes in two variants. One is handheld and battery-powered, and can connect to an Android smartphone over Bluetooth. The other can be plugged into a wall socket and connects over Wi-Fi.

The device can log the time and type of smoke detected, and then report incidents to an administrator. Hotel management can then catch an errant smoker in the act.

Other customers such as parents who want to stop their children from smoking may also find AirGuard useful.

2. China: Virtual wall of shame

In an effort to clean up its image for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government declared that certain public spaces such as restaurants and bars were required to have non-smoking areas. In reality, the low fines of 10RMB (S$2) did little to dissuade smokers.

As part of a stronger effort to ban smoking in indoor spaces and workplaces in 2015, the government raised the fine to 200RMB and began teaching school children hand gestures calling for smokers to stop.

It also hung giant "No Smoking" banners across the iconic Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which was built for the 2008 Olympics.

However, the real deterrent came in the form of social shaming. The Beijing municipal government set up an official "No Smoking Beijing" account on the popular messaging platform, WeChat, where citizens could submit photos of offenders.

Recalcitrant offenders who flouted the law three times or more could also be named and shamed on a government website.

3. Indonesia: Brightly painted smoke-free neighbourhood

Indonesia has one of the world's highest smoking rates. A 2016 investigation by the South-east Asia Tobacco Control Alliance found that more than half of the 122.4 million adult smokers in Asean countries live in Indonesia.

Lax anti-smoking laws and the influence of tobacco companies have allowed controversial cigarette advertising and products aimed at youth to reach the market.

In Penas Tanggul in East Jakarta, residents have had enough. Young people and students rallied in protest against major cigarette companies in 2017 and painted their houses in bright colours.

A blue banner hung near the entrance declared the neighbourhood a smoke-free zone. Residents hoped that the bright colours would serve as a visual reminder and encourage smokers to quit.

4. Japan: Extra vacation leave - for non-smokers

About a third of the workers at Piala, a Japanese marketing firm, caught the attention of their colleagues for working fewer hours in 2017. They arrived and left the office at the same time as everyone else, but they were smokers.

Their non-smoking counterparts began to take notice of the numerous smoke breaks that they would take throughout the day, each lasting up to 15 minutes.

When chief executive officer Takao Asuka heard about the complaints, however, he did not clamp down on the smokers perceived to be skiving off work.

Instead, he offered all non-smoking employees an extra six days of paid leave a year.

"I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," he told The Japan Times.

And it worked. Within two months of announcing the new benefit, at least four employees had kicked the habit, the company said.

5. Sweden: A coughing billboard

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Along with eating healthy and going to the gym, quitting smoking is a common New Year's resolution that is often made but rarely kept.

One Swedish pharmacy chain decided to use a billboard advertisement to encourage smokers to give up cigarettes.

At first glance, the advertisement merely showed a video of a man's face in black and white, along with the name of the pharmacy, Apotek Hjartat. The man was handsome, but otherwise unremarkable.

However, the digital billboard was equipped with hidden smoke detectors. If a smoker lit up or walked by while puffing away, the man in the billboard started coughing loudly.

A video capturing the startled, annoyed and amused reactions of smoking passers-by went viral.

The advertising agency responsible, Akestam Holst, was also behind a similar 2014 advertisement for hair-care product. It was placed in train stations and featured a woman whose hair would be blown around when a train passed by.


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