MP Louis Ng: Why I'm all for tobacco display ban

MP Louis Ng: Why I'm all for tobacco display ban
PHOTO: The Straits Times

He threw away his last packet of cigarettes when he landed in Orlando, Florida, where he was going for a conference in Disneyland.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng regretted it right away, as he would be at the theme park for a week and it did not sell any cigarettes.

But it was this spur-of-the-moment decision in 2013 that eventually helped the smoker of 17 years to quit for good.

Mr Ng, 37, shared his personal story in Parliament yesterday as he expressed his support for an amendment to the Tobacco Bill that will control the sale and advertisement of tobacco products.

He told The New Paper yesterday: "I started out of curiosity in the second year of junior college and I had been trying to quit for the longest time. I eventually managed to quit four months before the birth of my daughter, who is now two."

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Ng described the difficulties he faced while trying to quit, such as trying to avoid places that sold cigarettes.

This is why he supports the Bill, which was passed yesterday, that will introduce the point-of-sale display ban of tobacco products.

He said: "This will not only help people who are trying to quit but also possibly reduce the number of people who are enticed to start smoking."

The Bill will also address new regulatory challenges posed by the tobacco industry, such as e-cigarettes and online advertising. (See report above.)

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health In Singapore, told the House that about six Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each day.

Smoking rates have fallen over the years, from 18.3 per cent in 1992, to an all-time low of 12.6 per cent in 2004.

But in recent years, the prevalence has crept up to 13.3 per cent in 2013.

While supporting the Bill, several MPs urged the Ministry of Health to take it one step further by raising the minimum age of smoking from the current 18 to 21.

SMOKING BAN?

Mr Ng, who started smoking when he was about 18, supported raising the minimum age. He cited research from the World Health Organisation that shows that people who do not pick up smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to ever start smoking.

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng called for the Ministry to consider a Tobacco-Free Generation policy, which means that anyone born after a certain date should not be allowed to buy tobacco.

Dr Tan, an oncologist, said: "I remember a patient who could not stop smoking even though he had been diagnosed with smoking-related disease, and had young children at home breathing his second-hand smoke.

"So while it is important to help existing smokers to quit, the greatest battle is upstream: for the hearts and minds of our children and youth, to make sure they never start smoking in the first place."

Dr Khor said that raising the minimum age is being considered as part of the ongoing public consultation on further enhancements to Singapore's tobacco control measures.

But she explained that a cohort ban would be easy to circumvent, and enforcement will be challenging and resource-intensive.

Dr Khor said: "The Ministry of Health is familiar with this proposal, and has given it a lot of thought. Our concerns are the significant practical difficulties and risks in implementing and enforcing such a ban; and it may not result in the desired reduction in smoking rates."

linheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 15, 2016.
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