Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) (Amendment) Bill [Bill no. 31/2018]
Sir, we have been progressively expanding the list of smoke-free places in Singapore, moving step by step towards our vision of prohibiting smoking in all public places.
I understand that NEA’s goal is to move the policy from a prohibitive list to a positive list, which states places where smoking is allowed. This Bill is a step in that direction and I stand in full support of it.
As a former smoker who smoked for 17 years, I am passionate about fighting against the dangers of smoking. As a father, I am now doing all I can to protect my daughters against the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
85% to 90% of smoke in every cigarette ends up as second-hand smoke and there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
The World Health Organisation has reported that second-hand smoke contains at least 60 cancer-causing chemicals.
Those who are exposed to second-hand smoke face similar health risks as a smoker. These include eye, nose and throat irritations, respiratory tract infections, heart disease, and cancers.
Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke.
Further, children of smokers are more likely to pick up smoking themselves.
Sir I’m in strong support of this Bill and my only hope is that we can do more.
Addressing second-hand smoke in residential areas
We are now doing a lot to protect people from second-hand smoke in public areas but the concern which has been raised in this house before is what are we doing to protect people from second-hand smoke in their own homes?
It would seem at odds to protect people from second-hand smoke in the public areas where they spend less time and not protect them at home where they spend more time.
Many of my residents complain about being affected by second-hand smoke when their neighbours smoke at their windows or balconies. As HDB units are close to each other, what happens next door inadvertently affects neighbours.
For those who live next to, or above, chain smokers, this problem can be very acute. Imagine being exposed to and having to tolerate second-hand smoke from your neighbours everyday for years with the only reprieve being moving out altogether.
This is the reality faced by some of my residents, which I am sure is shared by many others.
I understand that the Act currently covers smoking in private vehicles in cases where windows are not fully wound up and smoke is expelled into smoking prohibited places.
I understand that it also covers any area within five metres of windows, exits and entrances to buildings where smoking is prohibited.
These restrictions are based on the logic that cigarette smoke can be expelled up to 5 metres away.
As such, applying the same logic, can the law be extended to prohibit smoking in private homes where the smoker is smoking at a window or door within five metres of the neighbour’s windows and doors?
This might not be a prefect solution but my hope is that the Ministry studies this issue further, does a public consultation about it and tries to find a middle ground.
I appreciate that the Minister’s reply will be what was said previously, “Smoking within residential premises, in the home, in private space is beyond the jurisdiction of the Government.”
But we do have regulations that cover what you do in your home, in your private space.
For example, we have regulations that prohibit making excessive noise in your own house. We have regulations saying you can’t be naked in your own house. Under Section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, a person cannot be naked in a private place while being exposed to public view.
I also want to add that it was reported just last month that the US implemented a ban on smoking inside public housing to improve indoor air quality, to reduce residents’ exposure to second-hand smoke, and to help smokers be more successful at quitting.
According to a nationwide study they conducted, people who lived in homes where smoking was prohibited were 60% more likely to quit smoking for at least 30 days than people without this prohibition.
Expanding ban on smoking in public areas
Next, in a Facebook comment, Mr. Loh shared with me the very common experience of pedestrians forced to breathe in second-hand smoke when they walk behind smokers who smoke while on the move.
Chiyoda-ku City in Tokyo has banned smoking while walking. New York City is now also considering a Bill that would similarly prohibit people from smoking while walking on sidewalks.
Would the Minister consider a ban on smoking while walking, which would stamp out the unpleasant situation highlighted by Mr. Loh that many of us have faced? Such a ban could be piloted on major streets with heavy pedestrian footfall such as those in the Central Business District and the Civic District.
Further, earlier this year SMS Amy Khor shared that the Ministry is exploring the feasibility of expanding the designated smoking area scheme first implemented in Orchard Road to other parts of Singapore. Can the Minister provide an update on the Ministry’s review and share if there are plans to scale up the scheme?
Can I also ask what would be the guidelines used in determining the suitability of the location of a smoking facility under Section 3B? This would be very important. I raise this as in some of the current eateries where there is a designated smoking area, it really doesn’t matter where you sit as you will get the second-hand smoke whether you are in the designated smoking area or not.
Safeguards on exercise of powers of entry
Lastly, I refer to the new Section 4A which provides authorised officers with certain powers of entry.
More specifically, to ascertain if a place has contravened the Act, officers are able to enter, inspect and search places, seize documents or materials, take possession of belongings, and photograph or film without a warrant.
Maximum fine of $2,000 is imposed on first offenders and $5,000 on repeat offenders who obstruct authorised officers exercising these powers.
While some powers of entry are necessary for effective enforcement and to achieve better outcomes for people affected by second-hand smoke, the scope of powers and maximum fine imposed might appear to some to be excessive.
Further, these powers may be exercised by non-uniformed public officers as with many of the other Bills passed recently. I understand the need to empower non-uniformed public officers, in this case NEA officers, to help with enforcement.
Nonetheless, this has to be balanced against privacy concerns, and I would like to ask what measures are in place to prevent the abuse of these broad powers.
Sir, notwithstanding these comments, I stand in full support of the Bill as it signals a strong resolve by the government to protect citizens against second-hand smoke. It is a firm step towards our vision of a smoke-free lifestyle in Singapore.