SINGAPORE - Nee Soon South is set to become a giant no-smoking zone by the end of the year. And if it works, other areas will follow.
In a bold effort to clamp down on the rising number of smokers, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) wants to make the entire neighbourhood of 50,000 people in Yishun the first "100 per cent smoke-free" constituency.
Current National Environment Agency (NEA) rules tell smokers where they cannot light up. HPB's plan is to tell smokers they cannot puff in any place other than "designated points" in public areas.
This could mean no more smoking at open carparks, parks and other open places.
The plan goes beyond NEA's regulations, which ban smoking in most indoor areas, such as pubs and malls, and more recently, covered walkways and void decks.
"Aside from residential areas, we also aim to make Lower Seletar Reservoir Park smoke-free," said Nee Soon South MP Lee Bee Wah, whose strong support had helped HPB to choose her constituency as its first test case.
The pilot scheme, she said, will be rolled out in stages, with designated smoking points to be set up in the estate. HPB's plan, however, does not tackle the issue of people smoking in their flats.
And while the MP and officials acknowledge that the plan is challenging, they believe it will work.
"If a smoker has to 'hide' to smoke... it will be a matter of time before he quits altogether because of the hassle," said Ms Lee. "Despite the magnitude of this project, we foresee that residents will be cooperative."
HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang, too, hopes the initiative can "create a new normal" where smoking is no longer accepted. "It may look like a daunting task right now. But if there is strong community support, an impact can definitely be made."
Some 14.3 per cent of adults in Singapore smoke, up from 12.6 per cent in 2004. HPB aims to cut this to under 10 per cent by 2020. If the scheme, which is a collaboration with the National Environment Agency, takes off in Nee Soon South, HPB will try to extend it to other constituencies in a bid to make the country's public places smoke-free.
Grassroots leader and stallkeeper Toh Boon Teck, 64, who has lived in Nee Soon South since 1986, believes that the key is to explain the scheme to residents.
"We just have to put in a bit of effort to spread the message," said the chairman of the residents' committee for Nee Soon South Zone C.
He noted that residents now take it upon themselves to tell others not to light up at Yishun Park Neighbourhood 8, which was made smoke-free last year.
One 40-year-old smoker who wanted to be known as Benny wondered how the project would cut smoking rates, given that people can still puff at home.
But most smokers The Straits Times interviewed seemed resigned to having fewer places to puff in the future.
Accounts executive Aisyah Tan, 28, who picked up the habit 10 years ago, said that while smokers tend to complain about new restrictions, they eventually abide by the rules. "People will probably get used to it," she said.
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