Madam Speaker, this Bill intends to introduce more controls and measures to reduce smoking rates in Singapore. As a former smoker, I fully support the controls and measures that will be put in place.
On October 12, 2013, I took my last puff after smoking for 17 years. I have not smoked since and I don’t intend to.
I tried without success to reduce my smoking for many years but I ultimately decided that “cold turkey” was the best way to quit. I did play cheat a little as I quit smoking when I was at a conference in Disneyland. It was a place I knew didn’t sell cigarettes. I was there for a week and as such it made it harder for me to get a cigarette in case I gave in to my cravings, which was quite severe during the first week of quitting.
It was hard to quit, the nicotine withdrawal symptoms were terrible and I was a grouchy smurf for quite a while. But it was worth it and I feel healthier now, my family members benefit and are healthier as well and I save loads of money.
If there was one thing I remember about the quitting process, it was that I did my best to avoid places selling cigarettes, which actually was very difficult, actually almost impossible as I had to avoid 7-Elevens, coffee shops and the list goes on. Every time I saw a cigarette packet, it was tempting and my cravings shot up.
As such, I find the new Section 12A which prohibits the display of tobacco products extremely useful. This will not only help people who are trying to quit but also possibly reduce the number of people who are enticed to start smoking.
The amendments to curb tobacco product advertisements are also equally crucial in our fight to lower smoking rates. After all, the goal of advertisements is to make you buy what you don’t want to buy and we need make sure people are not driven or tempted consciously or subconsciously into smoking.
Raising the minimum smoking age
I started smoking when I was about 18 years old and research by WHO shows that people who don’t pick up smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to ever start smoking. There was previous discussion about raising the minimum smoking age to 21 years old. Can the Minister clarify why this proposal is not included in this Bill?
Searching without warrant
I support this Bill but I do have one concern with regards to the amended Section 26(1b and c) which allows the Chief Executive or an authorised officer to at any time and without warrant enter and search any premise, stop, board and search any conveyance that the Chief Executive or authorised officer reasonably suspects are being used for or in connection with the commission of an offence under the Act.
Can the Minister clarify why a warrant is not required and what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that there will be not abuse of this? I am especially concerned that even authorised officers are allowed to search without a warrant.
Beyond legislation: Putting more effort into awareness
Ultimately, as always, we need to go beyond legislation. Among Singapore residents, the percentage of current smokers dropped from 18.3% in 1992 to 12.6% in 2004, but stabilised thereafter with 13.3% smokers in 2013.
Controlling the advertisement and sale of tobacco and increased enforcement efforts can help and probably have helped to reduce the smoking rates. However, I believe that public education is the longer-term solution.
I remember when I was young, there was a campaign with the slogan, “One puff and you’re hooked.” The distinct image of a smoker with a fishing hook in his mouth is still fresh in my memory.
I think we need to change the narrative. While that had the desire effect of educating the public of the dangers and addictive nature of cigarettes, it also gave a fatalistic view of smoking. I felt that since I am already smoking and it’s so hard to quit, I might as well just continue.
While we focus on efforts to ensure people don’t start smoking, let us also see how we can intensify our efforts to encourage more smokers to quit, to show them that it is possible to quit.
The last big public campaign that was launched was the “I Quit” campaign in 2011. I joined that campaign.
Since the “I Quit” campaign’s inception to 2014, a total of 5,000 smokers have pledged and 14% of those who pledged have successfully quit smoking.
Will the Ministry expand this campaign this year, which will be held in May? Can we think out of the box to launch more campaigns that will help us to reach our aim of getting smoking rates down to 12 per cent by 2020?
Positive campaign example – Using personal stories
There are many things we can learn from other successful “quit smoking” campaigns around the world. One such example is the “Tips from Former Smokers” Campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA.
One of the main strategies of the campaign was to focus on real people and stories on how smoking has affected their lives and how they managed to quit smoking.
While it is true that everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, the personal stories shared in this campaign were compelling and communicated in a very human way that smoking caused immediate damage to your body and that this damage can happen at a young age and be severe.
It sparked a national conversation and encouraged non-smokers to speak to their loves one who smoke.
Some statistics of the campaign include:
· An estimated 1.64 million Americans tried to quit smoking because of the 2012 campaign.
· Approximately 100,000 smokers are expected to quit for good.
· An estimated 6 million non-smokers talked with friends and family about the dangers of smoking, and an estimated 4.7 million additional non-smokers recommended cessation services to their friends and family.
In conclusion, let us continue to implements controls and measure on the advertisement and sale of tobacco, let us continue to find more innovative ways to encourage smokers to quit and let us hit target our of getting smoking rates down to 12 per cent by 2020.
Madam Speaker, my request for the government to review the above notwithstanding, I support the Bill.