80% of smokers hooked before they turn 21

SINGAPORE - The majority of smokers in Singapore pick up the habit before they are allowed to vote, according to figures from the National Health Survey 2010.

As a result, youths remain a priority group when it comes to  the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) National Tobacco Control Programme, said Mr Ang Hak Seng, Chief Executive Officer of HPB.

While Singapore's national smoking prevalence continues to be one of the lowest in the world at about 14 per cent, the percentage of young adult smokers below 30 years old has increased in recent years, from about 12 per cent in 2004 to 16 per cent in 2010.

HPB said that their research revealed that the spike can be attributed to factors like peer pressure and the misconception that smoking is 'cool'.

Some youths also ignore anti-smoking messages if they come from figures of authority, HPB said.

Hence, HPB aims to reach out to youths in ways that empower them, rather than a list of top-down do's and don'ts, Mr Ang said.

To encourage the younger generation to embrace healthy habits and a smoke-free lifestyle, HPB is launching a project in collaboration with Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), as school campuses are where youths spend a considerable amount of their time. The project will be first rolled out at ITE colleges.

Developed after an in-depth study by HPB to understand the psyche of today's youths, the engagement programme includes nurses deployed as Student Health Advisors to encourage students to live a smoke-free lifestyle, supporting and funding of youth health advocacy projects and training and nurturing of peer advocates.

HPB will work with school management and staff to set up a Health Promotion Club as a co-curricular activity.

Club members will be taught how to conceptualise, plan and strategise outreach projects. Upon completion of the training course, club members may be deployed within and beyond the school campus to spread, for example, anti-smoking and obesity management messages.

HPB will also look into disseminating healthy messages through social media, using interactive games, online videos, blogs and mobile phone apps.

This customised health engagement programme is to be implemented at all IHLs by 2015.

HPB has also been working with the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to provide smoking cessation programmes and peer support groups for full-time NS men who wish to quit smoking.

In the workplace setting, HPB launched a Workplace Smoking Control Programme in companies and trade associations last year to help employees who smoke break the habit.

To show support of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, major supermarket chains such as NTUC FairPrice, Giant, Cold Storage and Sheng Siong are voluntarily imposing a one-day ban on the sale of all tobacco products.