Sunday 14 July 2013

No smoking in Nee Soon South except at designated areas; Estate to get 50 designated smoking points by end-2017

By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2013

NEE Soon South is set to become a giant no-smoking zone by the end of the year. And if it works, other areas will follow.

In a bold effort to clamp down on the rising number of smokers, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) wants to make the entire neighbourhood of 50,000 people in Yishun the first "100 per cent smoke-free" constituency.

Current National Environment Agency (NEA) rules tell smokers where they cannot light up. HPB's plan is to tell smokers they cannot puff in any place other than "designated points" in public areas.

This could mean no more smoking at open carparks, parks and other open places.

The plan goes beyond NEA's regulations, which ban smoking in most indoor areas, such as pubs and malls, and more recently, covered walkways and void decks.

"Aside from residential areas, we also aim to make Lower Seletar Reservoir Park smoke-free," said Nee Soon South MP Lee Bee Wah, whose strong support had helped HPB to choose her constituency as its first test case.

The pilot scheme, she said, will be rolled out in stages, with designated smoking points to be set up in the estate. HPB's plan, however, does not tackle the issue of people smoking in their flats.

And while the MP and officials acknowledge that the plan is challenging, they believe it will work.

"If a smoker has to 'hide' to smoke... it will be a matter of time before he quits altogether because of the hassle," said Ms Lee. "Despite the magnitude of this project, we foresee that residents will be cooperative."

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang, too, hopes the initiative can "create a new normal" where smoking is no longer accepted.

"It may look like a daunting task right now. But if there is strong community support, an impact can definitely be made."

Some 14.3 per cent of adults in Singapore smoke, up from 12.6 per cent in 2004. HPB aims to cut this to under 10 per cent by 2020.

If the scheme, which is a collaboration with the National Environment Agency, takes off in Nee Soon South, HPB will try to extend it to other constituencies in a bid to make the country's public places smoke-free.

Grassroots leader and stallkeeper Toh Boon Teck, 64, who has lived in Nee Soon South since 1986, believes that the key is to explain the scheme to residents.

"We just have to put in a bit of effort to spread the message," said the chairman of the residents' committee for Nee Soon South Zone C.

He noted that residents now take it upon themselves to tell others not to light up at Yishun Park Neighbourhood 8, which was made smoke-free last year.

One 40-year-old smoker who wanted to be known as Benny wondered how the project would cut smoking rates, given that people can still puff at home.

But most smokers The Straits Times interviewed seemed resigned to having fewer places to puff in the future.

Accounts executive Aisyah Tan, 28, who picked up the habit 10 years ago, said that while smokers tend to complain about new restrictions, they eventually abide by the rules. "People will probably get used to it," she said.

Clearing the air nationwide
Making a whole constituency smoke-free may be the way of the future
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2013

IT IS the first spark: A pilot project to make Nee Soon South the first non-smoking constituency, with all its public areas smoke-free, will take its first steps by year's end.

Smokers will be asked to refrain from lighting up in all public areas except at designated points, in a voluntary initiative being rolled out in stages and probably starting with one of its seven resident committee zones.

In Singapore, smoking is allowed in any place that does not come under the public smoking ban as stipulated by the National Environment Agency (NEA). This ban covers most indoor public areas like malls and schools, as well as void decks and covered walkways.

So, people are free to puff at outdoor public places like parks and park connectors, beaches, surface carparks, and also at home and in private vehicles.

But the initiative in Nee Soon South - a Yishun estate of 50,000 - may become a tipping point, as it flips the default of outdoor smoking to non-smoking except at designated points.

Dr Ong Kian Chung, who heads the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Association, believes the Nee Soon South move will go a long way to protect the constituency's non-smoking residents.

Non-smokers in other neighbourhoods in Singapore - having learnt of the initiative - say they want to see their precincts smoke-free too.

While Nee Soon South MP Lee Bee Wah - a non-smoker - is encouraged, she concedes that smoking "has always been an addiction that is hard to kick", so the pilot will be carried out progressively.

It will be done with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and the NEA. "We don't want to be too aggressive and caught up with achieving results," Ms Lee said. "We hope Nee Soon South can be truly clean and green."

Further details are unavailable. But if this pilot proves persuasive, smokers may only light up outside their homes at designated smoking points around the estate.

While the initiative may seem radical, anti-smoking advocates say that declaring an area smoke- free may not be enough to get people to quit. Dr K. Thomas Abraham, who heads the non-profit Sata CommHealth, said eradicating the habit takes an "all-rounded effort".

For example, high taxes alone have not deterred many smokers. Also, Singapore was the first in the world to ban tobacco advertising in 1971, and the first in Asia to introduce gory images on cigarette packets in 2004.

Even so, more and more people continue to light up. Some 14.3 per cent of adults aged 18 to 69 in Singapore smoke, up from 12.6 per cent in 2004. "We have to ringfence the problem with a slew of measures," said Dr Abraham.

National plans

THERE is a national initiative to eventually make all public areas smoke-free, said Dr Annie Ling, who heads adult health at HPB.

Work has started with the launch of the Blue Ribbon Movement, which gets organisations to voluntarily declare their premises 100 per cent smoke-free. Some 13 hawker centres and seven hotels, among others, have joined in.

Nee Soon South is trying to do likewise - except that instead of targeting buildings, its objective is the neighbourhood. So its initiative is not too big a leap.

Besides, other countries are already miles ahead in restricting outdoor smoking. Dozens of municipalities across Canada and the United States have extended smoking bans to places like parks, beaches and even streets.

The same goes for states in Australia; Queensland does not allow smoking at patrolled beaches. Smoking in cars carrying children is also a no-no.

Meanwhile, Bhutan was the first in the world to go entirely smoke-free in 2004, when it banned the sale of tobacco.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2011 notes that Singapore does not have as many smoke-free public places as other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Singapore, taking a more gradual approach, aims to lower its smoking rate from the current 14.3 per cent of the adult population to below 10 per cent by 2020.

To do this, the HPB needs to get 15,000 people to quit each year. But it is not easy: for every successful attempt, studies show there are up to seven failed ones.

Adults between the ages of 18 and 39 are the biggest worry, with more than 16 per cent of them smokers, higher than the national average. It is worse in certain "pockets" - 31.5 per cent of hotel employees and 27 per cent of Malay-Muslims light up regularly.

As such, making Nee Soon South totally smoke-free may not be that far-fetched.

Making it work

BUT how will the project be carried out, that is, seeing to it that smokers keep to the rules?

Answers, perhaps, can be found in the estate's smoke-free park. The Yishun Neighbourhood 8 Park, at blocks 809 and 810 along Yishun Ring Road, disallowed smoking last year under the Blue Ribbon Movement.

Ms Lee said the success of the smoke-free park made her optimistic.

The key is the direct involvement of residents who take it upon themselves to patrol the park. Mr Toh Boon Teck, 64, has lived in the area for close to 30 years. The stall keeper goes on patrol once every few weeks and is sometimes joined by other residents' committee members. When they see someone smoking, they will politely remind him that the park is a no-smoking zone. Sometimes, they tell them that smoking is bad for their health.

Happily, most take the message well. "The most important thing is our attitude - we should not be confrontational," Mr Toh said. "We chat, not lecture."

Ms Lee hopes that expanding smoke-free zones will drive some to stub out the habit as they would have to "hide" to smoke. But she expects "some strong reactions" from die-hard smokers.

Several who were interviewed lamented this latest barrier, with one saying that "the Government might as well ban cigarettes altogether". One 33-year-old labelled the Nee Soon South project "drastic", adding that "smokers have rights too".

Some netizens have also pointed out that hardcore smokers can always find somewhere to smoke, or retreat into their homes.

Driving people to smoke at home means their families will be exposed to more second-hand smoke, said Dr Ong, who is a respiratory specialist in private practice. For the Nee Soon South project to produce results, it has to go islandwide, he added.

Other measures required

UNTIL then, current initiatives have to be sustained - especially those that can help smokers to quit the habit for good.

Many are probably immune now to the usual scare tactics like graphic warnings on cigarette packs. "People get tired of hearing 'smoking kills'," Dr Abraham said. "What we should do is to equip people with the resilience to say no to cigarettes."

The HPB's QuitLine, a national hotline for smokers, is an example which saw more than 1,000 smokers call for help between June and November last year. Over 30 per cent of callers stayed off cigarettes for more than six months, said the HPB's Dr Ling.

Another effort is the training of service personnel by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to support colleagues trying to quit.

Colonel (Dr) Gan Wee Hoe, Commander of the SAF Military Medicine Institute, said that most young Singaporean males start smoking before enlisting. The SAF and HPB are looking into whether counselling could be given to pre-enlistees who smoke when they come for medical screening.

Hospitals and some pharmacies also offer such counselling.

The Nee Soon South pilot sends a strong signal that non- smoking public areas could be the norm of the future.

That is good news for those who do not smoke. But for those who do, or are tempted to, other measures are needed. Anti-smoking efforts do not, and will not, work in isolation.

* Nee Soon South estate to get 50 designated smoking points by end-2017
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2017

There are benches and dustbins in the 42 "pavilions" that dot the Housing Board estate of Nee Soon South, but they were not built for picnics or as a place for people to rest their tired feet - not mainly, anyway.

These 3m by 3m sheds are designated smoking points, where smokers are encouraged to take a puff in. Many of them are located on grassy patches near HDB blocks, and are a distance away from the nearest block, so as to prevent the second-hand smoke from wafting into the units on lower floors.

There will be 50 of these smoking points by the end of 2017, up from the current 42, said Ms Lee Bee Wah, who is an MP of the area, during the launch of the smoking points on Sunday (Jan 22).

"They were a win-win solution: non-smoking residents said the designated smoking points reduced the amount of second-hand smoke they have to endure, and smokers were generally cooperative. Cigarette butt litter also reduced significantly," she said.

Ms Lee also told residents in her speech that during a busy day, about 200 cigarette butts can be collected at a single point.

Under this initiative, smokers will not be penalised if they light up outside the designated points. However, those who are caught smoking in covered linkways, walkways and pedestrian overhead bridges may be liable to a fine of up to $1,000, under National Environment Agency regulations.

When the roll-out of the 50 points is complete, there will roughly be one designated smoking point for every three blocks in the 147-block Nee Soon South estate.

On whether the programme will be rolled out in the entire Nee Soon constituency, Ms Lee said such ground-up initiatives depend on community support, but that it was encouraging to see similar smoking points set up in Orchard Road.

The launch of the 50 smoking points in Nee Soon South follows a pilot the constituency undertook in 2014. Back then, six of these smoking pavilions were launched in Zone D of the estate, which includes Yishun Stadium, Sports Hall and Recreation Centre, as well as residential blocks 816 to 849. The grassroots leaders received good feedback from the pilot, and decided to roll out more.

Since then, the pavilions have also undergone an upgrade. Instead of sheds surrounded by flimsy plastic sheets and covered with an umbrella-like structure, the new designated smoking points have sturdier zinc roofs and taller "walls", which help to shelter users from rain. The new sheds also have benches.

The design was selected by residents of three short-listed ones in January 2016. In all, the entire project cost an estimated $500,000. The designated smoking points were sponsored by 27 private companies and individuals, including Mr Raymond Chia, the chief executive and chairman of a real estate and construction firm.

Mr Chia welcomed the initiative as one that would accommodate smokers and non-smokers, as well as providing space for people who want to light up while ensuring clean air for those who do not smoke.

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