Tuesday, 7 January 2014

First community-led smoke-free zone goes on trial in Nee Soon South on 5 Jan 2014

By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2014

SINGAPORE'S first community- led smoke-free zone started yesterday, giving smokers fewer places to light up in the constituency of Nee Soon South.

Under a one-year pilot initiative launched yesterday by grassroots adviser Lee Bee Wah, smoking will be allowed only in six designated areas in Nee Soon South Zone D, which spans 28 blocks.

The smoke-free zone will cover communal spaces in Nee Soon South Zone D, including the Yishun Stadium, Sports Hall and Recreation Centre as well as residential blocks 816 to 849.

It will include open-air areas like grass patches and basketball courts.

Depending on feedback from residents after the pilot, the smoke-free zone may be extended to other areas in Nee Soon South, said Ms Lee.

However, smokers will not be penalised if they are caught lighting up away from the designated points.

"It's a voluntary ground-up initiative by residents," said Ms Lee. "Educating the residents (on where the smoking points are) would be more effective than enforcement because they'll do it willingly."

Supported by the National Environment Agency and Health Promotion Board (HPB), the initiative follows the extension of a smoking ban one year ago to include areas such as covered linkways and walkways, outdoor hospital compounds and common areas of residential buildings.

Smokers who flout the law may be liable to a fine of up to $1,000.

The new smoking points, each measuring 3m by 3m, are located in open-air areas like grass patches. Each has partitions on three sides, a parasol shelter and a cigarette disposal bin.

At least 20 resident volunteers or "smoke-free ambassadors" have been trained by the HPB. They will be sent out every month to patrol the areas and encourage smokers to light up only at the designated areas.

Resident Lee Beng Huat, 65, who smoked for 30 years before quitting, welcomed the move.

He said: "When someone smokes near you, you'll feel uncomfortable. People with asthma might be more sensitive to this and start coughing."

However, Mr John Lim, 53, a long-time Yishun resident who runs his own signage business, said he may not abide by the new initiative.

"If I want to smoke on the way to the MRT station and I'm in a rush, you can't expect me to go specially to the designated smoking point."

* Not many takers for smoking 'sheds'
Smokers in Nee Soon still prefer lighting up in open; Volunteers not giving up
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2014

TWO weeks into the new smoke-free zone in Nee Soon South, Singapore's first to be led by the grassroots, smokers are still not budging.

When resident volunteers trained by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) took to the streets for the first time on Thursday night to cajole smokers into using the six smoking "sheds" rather than puff away in the open, some listened out of politeness while others scurried away from them.

Sporting T-shirts emblazoned with "I Love Quitters" on the front, four middle-aged volunteers - all non-smokers - gamely made their way around Nee Soon South Zone D's 28 blocks to speak to smokers.

The smoke-free zone covers communal spaces in the area, including Yishun Stadium and Yishun Sports and Recreation Centre. It is part of a one-year pilot that may be extended throughout Nee Soon South if residents support it.

On Thursday, the volunteers chatted to smokers, told them about the new smoke-free initiative, and gently tried to direct them to the designated smoking areas. They also passed them HPB booklets with tips on how to quit the habit.

Smokers, however, said they wanted the right to smoke wherever they wanted in the open, as long as it was legal.

Said student Maslina Ali, 21, who was smoking in one of the sheds. "I'm only using it because I happened to be here. If I'm not near one, I will just smoke if I have to smoke."

A nationwide smoking ban was expanded a year ago to include areas such as covered walkways and common areas of residential buildings. Those who flout the law may be fined up to $1,000.

Smokers in Nee Soon South Zone D, however, will not be penalised for not using the smoking areas.

Plumber Chong Kiang Wah, 42, who smokes a packet of cigarettes a day, took the time to listen to the volunteers but quickly walked to a nearby carpark to finish smoking "in peace".

"Were they trying to fine me?" he asked this reporter. "I just ate dinner nearby. Why would I walk all the way (to the shed) to smoke?"

"Nowadays, we smokers have nowhere to smoke," he added.

Teacher Juliana Lim, in her 50s and one of the volunteers, remained hopeful.

She said: "It does not matter. We cannot force people. Hopefully one day, they will change."

Engineer Narayanan Nair, 60, who is chairman of the area's residents' committee, said: "You have to try to get to know them, then they will give you a listening ear. Many of them actually do want to quit."

For a start, the 20 HPB volunteers will make their rounds in pairs twice a week to raise awareness about Nee Soon South's smoke-free zone.

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