Singapore raises minimum legal age for smoking from 18 to 21: 4 other suggestions to deter first puff

Singapore raises minimum legal age for smoking from 18 to 21: 4 other suggestions to deter first puff
While smoking among adults here fell from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 per cent in 2013, the rate has since stagnated at that level.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Over the years, a slew of wide-ranging measures have been introduced to clamp down on smoking in Singapore.

While smoking among adults here fell from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 per cent in 2013, the rate has since stagnated at that level.

Also, smokers are starting younger.

The average age at which they first lit up was 16 years old in 2013, down from 17 in 2001.

To combat youth smoking, several measures can be considered, some of which have been affirmed in overseas studies. Here is a quick look at them:

1. LIMITING TOBACCO SALES POINTS

Cigarette packets displayed on a shelf behind the counter in a minimart.Photo: The Straits Times

This is an emerging frontier in tobacco control.

The density and proximity of tobacco sellers in a given area, such as near schools, have been shown in studies to affect adolescent lifetime smoking and experimental smoking.

Some parts of the United States have already started to draft laws or proposals requiring a minimum distance between tobacco shops, and to cap the number of such retailers in a specific area.

In Singapore, there are more than 4,700 tobacco retail outlets as of last year - more than 40 times the number of McDonald's restaurants islandwide.

2. A NOT-FOR-PROFIT MODEL

The Cathedral square in Oslo, Norway. In Norway, only a government-run chain sells alcoholic beverages, and it is not-for-profit. Photo: Reuters

Taking a leaf out of how alcohol sales are managed in Nordic nations such as Sweden and Iceland, the retail set-up of tobacco shops could go down the same route.

In those countries, only a government-run chain sells alcoholic beverages, and it is not-for-profit.

Strict rules come with their sales, for example, underaged teenagers cannot enter the alcohol shop and even those lingering outside may get questioned.

As a result, alcohol consumption has declined significantly in both countries in the past decades.

3. COHORT BAN

A cohort ban would involve banning people of a certain age onwards from smoking.Photo: The Straits Times

This involves banning people born after a certain year, such as 2000, from smoking.

Generally referred to as the "Tobacco Free Generation" movement, it first surfaced in Singapore in 2010, backed by doctors, and has since gained some traction in other countries.

It is described as an "end-game" strategy to stamp out smoking once and for all, starting with the next generation.

But some ministers, including those in Singapore, had voiced doubts that it can be implemented effectively and in a practical manner.

The issue of undemocratic age discrimation has also been brought up in other quarters.

4. TOTAL BAN

 A Bhutanese girl walks with her brother along a road in Paro. Photo: AFP

Bhutan is the only country in the world today to completely prohibit tobacco sales, cultivation and manufacturing in 2004.

It may appear to be a straightforward measure - much akin to banning chewing gum in Singapore - but smoking, being addictive, poses more complex problems.

In Bhutan's case, it was a blanket ban that is meant to target people of all ages.

Despite that, more teenagers were found to be smoking in 2013, compared to 2006.

For the full analysis, go to: http://str.sg/4BxH


This article was first published on April 20, 2017.
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