SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF SMOKING PROHIBITION IN CERTAIN PLACES (AMENDMENT) BILL IN PARLIAMENT ON XXX SEP 2018
More than three decades have passed since the official beginnings of our journey towards a nation of non-smokers. Way back in 1986, posters already warned that smoking causes lung cancer and heart attacks. Over the years, as more research and statistics about the health risks of smoking and second-hand smoke surfaced, public awareness campaigns all over the world have also become increasingly graphic and aggressive. Nevertheless, the effect is limited, especially on those who have already picked up the habit. For those of us who have friends and family members who smoke, many of them are kind enough to walk away when they need a puff. They clearly understand the effects of smoking, and they don’t wish to cause harm to their loved ones, yet they are doing this to themselves.
That’s the battle against cigarette addiction that forms the backdrop to what we discuss today. There are several aspects of the Bill I welcome wholeheartedly, and several places it can go further. With the amendments to the Bill that will help designate most of the Orchard Road precinct as a smoke-free area, I believe more Singaporeans and tourists, especially families with children, can look forward to having a more comfortable leisure and shopping experience. The increased powers to manage prohibited smoking spots is hopefully an indication that there are further plans to implement smoking prohibition in more places.
I am pleased that the Bill takes into consideration the welfare of our NEA officers. Certainly, uncooperative offenders who abuse our officers deserve to be apprehended. However, even if we enhance enforcement powers and prohibit smoking in more places, it is pointless if people continue to light up where they shouldn’t if they believe they can get away with it. Lack of enforcement continues to be a problem that undermines the effectiveness of this policy. It is a difficult task to catch a smoker red-handed. Most people do not smoke beyond a few minutes, so even if a report is made, by the time an NEA officer comes to catch him, the smoker would have left. Most people are afraid to take front-view pictures of smokers because it may escalate into a conflict, so requesting for pictorial evidence of illegal smoking too has its limitations. And, despite the numerous CCTVs installed in public areas, these devices are meant to monitor and deter crimes. This is even happening in HDB estates, where the offender is a resident. Despite numerous reports from other affected residents, the NEA officers are unable to book the offender red-handed so the smoker continues to get away scot-free. I hope the authorities will address the difficulties of catching and penalising illegal smoking.
Moreover, I am disappointed to learn that residential homes remain out of the authorities’ regulation when it comes to smoking. Now, I understand the challenges. Everyone deserves the freedom to do what he or she likes in their own homes, as long as we do not break the law or harm anyone. So, the question we need to ask is: Does smoking in one’s own house cause harm or is injurious to anyone’s health? When they smoke in the presence of family members, especially young children, without a doubt, the answer is “Yes”. When the smoke drifts out of the window and infiltrates a neighbour’s house, that’s another definite “Yes”. Conflicts between HDB neighbours over cigarette smoke crossing over into other houses are increasingly on the rise.
Sir, not only do we have to do more, we also have to move fast. Like all addictions, once smoking takes root, it is challenging to be smoke-free. So many countries are trying, and failing. One can argue that if other countries cannot do it, why should we be so “kiasu”? We can rest on our laurels and wait for someone to work out a solution and then we adapt it for our own use. But no, we are Singapore, a small nation capable of accomplishing lofty ambitions. We eradicated opium smoking, despite 1 in 4 Chinese adults being addicted to opium in 1933 . Undesirable and common habits like spitting and vandalism by way of chewing gum are shadows of the past. I am confident that we can eradicate smoking if the authorities are firm about it.
If accessibility to cigarettes is greatly reduced, then we need not worry about enforcement. It is high time to look into heavily restricting tobacco sales in Singapore. We can start with a gradual approach by rationing the amount of sales and drastically increasing taxes on cigarettes. We can channel the extra taxes back into programs that help people quit. We need not ban the act of smoking itself, but we can make cigarettes much less available.
In the interim, more support and assistance must be available for smokers across all demographics to help them kick the habit. However, in raising the legal smoking age, some young smokers who have been smoking illegally may be afraid to come forward to seek help, so this is something to consider.
Let me summarise in Chinese.
Sir, I support the Bill, but we need stronger measures to fulfil our vision of a smoke-free nation. Not for the glory of being the first nation to achieve it, not to become another glowing statistic, but for the well-being of the current generation of Singaporeans and beyond.