Thursday, 9 November 2017

Legal age for smoking to be raised from 18 to 21

Minimum age for smokers to be raised to 19 on 1 Jan 2019, 20 on 1 Jan 2020 and finally to 21 on 1 Jan 2021; e-cigarettes to face ban
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2017

The minimum age for smoking will be raised to 19 on Jan 1, 2019, as Singapore intensifies its efforts to get people to stub out.

It will then be raised progressively every January until 2021, when smokers have to be 21 before they can light up. Currently, the minimum age is 18.

The amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, approved by Parliament yesterday, also ban people from buying, using and owning imitation tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, e-cigars and e-pipes.

The Straits Times understands that the ban will kick in early next year. This move extends the current ban on the sale, import and distribution of battery-powered devices that heat nicotine-infused liquids to produce a vapour for inhalation.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said the measures are to "de-normalise" the use of tobacco products over time and deny youth access to cigarettes.

Surveys show that young people get their cigarettes from friends and schoolmates, he said when tabling the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill for debate. Social and peer pressure also strongly influence them to start smoking, he added when explaining the move to raise the minimum smoking age to 21.

Although the Health Promotion Board's data showed that the proportion of smokers here had fallen from over 18 per cent in the 1990s to around 12 per cent to 14 per cent in the past 10 years, Mr Amrin believed it could be reduced further.

He noted that 23 per cent of the men here still smoke, much higher than in countries such as Australia (14.5 per cent) and the United States (15.6 per cent).

Also, about 95 per cent of smokers here took their first puff before they turned 21, Mr Amrin said. And 45 per cent cultivated the habit between 18 and 21 years old.

Research in the US found that the brains of adolescents were particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction, Mr Amrin said, adding that "smokers who start earlier also find it harder to quit later in life".

He was also wary of imitation tobacco products, saying the Ministry of Health (MOH) considers them gateway products that get users hooked on nicotine, which then leads to cigarette use.

He dismissed claims that these products are less harmful than cigarettes. "Some of these (claims) actually come from research sponsored by the tobacco industry," he said.

To ensure the changes are effective, MOH will work with Customs and other agencies to fight illicit trade in cigarettes, he said.

Ten MPs spoke in support of the changes.

They included Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who all asked if more could be done about second-hand smoke in Housing Board estates.

Mr Yee suggested MOH work with the National Environment Agency to produce guidelines on what constitutes unhealthy levels of second-hand smoke. He proposed that residents be allowed to apply to the courts for smokers living near them to light up less often, if the smoke hits unhealthy levels.

Mr Amrin said MOH works with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to minimise exposure to second-hand smoke in the community.

Ms Lee suggested a hotline or a mobile app be set up for people to report illegal smoking. Mr Amrin said he will pass her idea to MEWR.

When asked why not ban tobacco completely as it is such a major health scourge, Mr Amrin did not rule it out. It could happen in the longer term, "when tobacco use is at very low levels'', he said.

MPs question whether total ban on e-cigarettes is necessary
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2017

The impending ban on imitation tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, e-pipes and e-cigars was questioned by some MPs, even as they supported the changes made to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act.

They argued that these imitation tobacco products might be useful in helping smokers stub out.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) noted that Britain, New Zealand and the United States have done extensive studies and endorsed policies that allow such products.

He wondered if Singapore "might be missing out on a chance to benefit" from a policy that allows the controlled use of these products to help smokers give up cigarettes.

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera suggested letting smokers have "a controlled quantity of e-cigarettes'', but they must register with the Health Promotion Board for a smoking cessation programme.

"It is not easy for smokers to quit,'' he said. "Surely, the humane thing to do is to allow smokers - both those seeking to quit and reduce consumption - an avenue to use a less harmful product?"

Criminalising e-cigarette users, regardless of their age, sends the signal that imitation tobacco products are as harmful, if not more so, than regular cigarettes, he added.

Responding, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said the number of studies showing imitation tobacco products are a gateway to regular cigarettes outnumbers studies that claim otherwise. These studies are also more authoritative.

He said: "We are aiming for a high and precautionary level of public health protection." He also said nicotine in imitation tobacco products produces toxic substances that "increase the risk of cancer of the throat, stomach and bladder".

Later in the sitting, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat asked Mr Perera if he was supportive of e-cigarettes because his business consultancy, Spire Group, had a client that supplies glue used for cigarette sticks.

Mr Perera said it was a small client from the past, adding that he strongly objected to any insinuation that he was motivated by financial or commercial gain.

Some MPs also asked why the minimum smoking age was being raised in phases to 21 instead of being done at one go.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) was worried it would cause confusion and provide youth with a "so-called unique chance to be among the last batch of those who get to smoke legally below the age of 21".

Mr Amrin Amin said an immediate change to age 21 would affect about 12,000 young people aged between 19 and 21.

Smokers need some time to kick the habit, he pointed out, so the "phased implementation provides a realistic timeframe".

He also noted that "raising the minimum age alone will not eliminate smoking". Hence, the Health Ministry will "continue to send a strong message to young people to stay away from cigarettes".

Second Reading Speech by Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, on the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill, 7 November 2017

Closing Speech by Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, on the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill, 7 November 2017

Smoking ban extended to universities, private-hire cars from 1 Oct 2017; New Bill in Parliament to raise minimum smoking age to 21

Public areas in Orchard Road to be smoke-free from 1 July 2018

Singapore raises minimum smoking age to 19 years old from 1 January 2019; Orchard Road will also become smoke-free, with lighting up limited to designated areas

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