SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE TOBACCO (CONTROL OF ADVERTISEMENTS AND SALE) (AMENDMENT) BILL IN PARLIAMENT
Mr Speaker Sir,
Promoting a smoke-free environment in Singapore is an enduring challenge that is close to my heart. From championing for designated smoking points, to rallying ambassadors to educate and spread awareness, it is my wish for residents to enjoy living in a clean and green environment. More importantly, good health is crucial for one to lead an active and fruitful lifestyle. I fully support the view that smoking and the presence of second-hand smoke are detrimental to one’s well-being. It is also an immense burden on public health.
I am pleased to note that in recent years, the government has been actively introducing new measures aimed at gradually making smoking a thing of the past. Having received disturbing feedback about students spotted smoking in their school uniforms, or even forming smoking cliques in school and NS, I am supportive of the Bill to raise the legal smoking age to 21 years old. I believe this will, to some extent, serve as an additional impediment to discourage teenagers and adolescents, at their most impressionable age, to pick up smoking. There are ample studies, including by the World Health Organization, to indicate that a huge percentage of smokers pick up the habit or get addicted before they turn 21 years. Cities across the US are raising the legal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Experts have rationalized that this would reduce peer pressure to smoke.
Meanwhile, members of the Eliminate Cancer Initiative in Australia are lobbying to convince federal and state governments to raise the legal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21, which they believe will not only save lives but up to A$3.1 billion a year from the government’s coffers. So, we are catching up with what a number of countries had done.
I should add that this is only a small part of the solution. Determined young smokers will find ways to get around the law. They can ask their older friends or even strangers to help them to buy cigarettes. In spite of a smoking ban in many public places, that is not stopping smokers from lighting up, as long as no NEA officer is around to enforce the smoking ban. If enforcement is inadequate, the policy will become a white elephant. Understandably, NEA has limited resources and is unable to station officers all throughout Singapore. I hope the agency would have to think of ways to overcome this.
Perhaps they can work closely with the public to track down and penalize errant smokers.
One way is to make it easier for the public to report illegal smoking. There should be a dedicated hotline for the public to call in. Or, better still use mobile applications like OneService and incorporate a new function that allows people to quickly submit reports on the spot. Once multiple feedback is received about particular “hotspot” areas, then NEA can deploy plain clothes officers to book the culprits. I have also had feedback from residents who would dutifully call the NEA to report smoking on prohibited premises, such as the HDB void decks. But they told me they did not receive any follow-up on their feedback. In fact, later on they would see the culprit committing the offence again. So, they are disappointed. They told me their feedback was not taken seriously. We need to walk the talk.
Also important is equipping young Singaporeans with knowledge to make informed decisions for themselves. Our schools are doing a fairly good job imparting the relevant knowledge on hazards of smoking. There have been several anti-smoking campaigns as well. Perhaps, more must be done to highlight the financial and health burden of smoking on the individual and the family, and the environment, and the nation. We should hone in on how smoking negatively impacts the eco-system, from littering, to producing of carcinogenic smoke.
Next, give assistance to addicted smokers, especially those under the age of 21. Just as we now have professionals in counseling and career guidance stationed in schools to meet changing demands of the youth population, are there counsellors in schools who are trained in smoking cessation?
In pursuing a smoke-free nation, we must not alienate the smokers, many who might have picked up the habit due to external influence and pressure or because they did not know what they were getting themselves into, and now find it difficult to quit. Some grew up with smoker parents. Furthermore, there should also be more resources to educate family and friends on how they can help their loved ones. Smokers will require compelling reasons and supportive, accessible platforms to kick the addiction willingly. A well-informed and conscious decision to quit is more effective than any law and policy to keep the cigarettes away. In fact, I believe there is no law which will keep both smokers and non-smokers happy.
Just two days ago, I had a block party. A young mother told me that she lives on the ground floor. Beside her block, there’s a staircase that leads to the main road. Every day, there are lots of people standing there, waiting for friends or transport. And while they’re waiting, they’re puffing away. Smoke affects her child very badly as he has asthma. She tried talking to the smokers. But they stare blankly at her and look into the sky. Or they say, “This is an open air area, you go and call NEA la!”
I also heard from another resident. She lives with her father-in-law who always smokes in the living room. To protect her children, she brought her children upstairs (they live in an executive apartment). But the smoke comes upstairs too! She asked me for help. But her father-in-law smokes in his own home, which is not against any law.
So I would like to take this opportunity to urge all smokers: Be responsible. Be more considerate. Before you light your next cigarette, look around whether there are any young children, whether the smoke affects other people. Because in both cases, I can feel that the mothers are so helpless.
Sir, Chinese please. 抽烟侵蚀我国青少年的健康，因此把最低吸烟年龄提高到21岁，我完全支持。不过除了提高吸烟年龄外，希望当局也能想出别的方法，打击我国的吸烟率。例如，我国许多地方禁烟，但只要没有环境局人员在附近，烟客还是照样点烟。公众应该可以通过专属热线或OneService应用来举报这些烟客。
Sir, I support the Bill. Thank you.