S'pore to cut smoking rate to 10% of population by 2020

PHOTO: S'pore to cut smoking rate to 10% of population by 2020

SINGAPORE - Singapore has its tough top-down policies to thank for its low smoking prevalence, but the country can do better by aiming to cut smoking rates to below 10 per cent by 2020.

This was the message of the Health Promotion Board, delivered by Mr Ang Hak Seng, Chief Executive Officer of HPB a day after the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), which saw Singapore being praised for the success of its anti-smoking measures.

Between 1992 and 2010, Singapore's smoking rate fell from 18.3 per cent to 14.3 per cent. According to HPB, more than 85 per cent of adults in Singapore are non-smokers.

While this figure is one of the lowest in the world, HPB stressed that along with the few other countries where smoking rates have dropped to about 15 per cent, bringing the smoking prevalence down further is getting progressively slower and harder.

To achieve the 2020 goal, Singapore cannot rely on the same old ways of doing things, said Mr Ang.

He added that it is imperative that the nation take things to the next level by complementing the Government's tough top-down approach with a national ground-up social movement.

This is necessary in order to "de-normalise" smoking and promote a tobacco-free lifestyle as the social norm, he said.

Mobilising communities

To kick start this, HPB announced that it is tapping on the extensive network of its Health Ambassadors.

One such initiative is the peer-led Youth Advolution for Health (YAH) Programme, which features 450 of the youngest members of HPB's Health Ambassador Network reaching out to 150,000 youths annually.

According to HPB research, most youth smokers will ignore or even rebel against anti-smoking messages if they come from figures of authority.

This is why HPB is working through Health Ambassadors, especially ex-smokers who can relate to the difficulties in attempting to quit.

Working with businesses

Working with businesses

HPB is also encouraging more businesses to go smoke-free by getting them to see the value of smoke-free premises.

The recently launched Blue Ribbon initiative gives out the Blue Ribbon award - an international symbol of the anti-tobacco movement - to markets and food centres that actively promote smoke-free messages to customers and declare themselves voluntary non-smoking zones.

This is especially important for parents who want to bring their families to smoke-free areas so that they can protect their children from second-hand smoke, said HPB.

Ten markets and food centres have received the award so far.

Grassroot organisations have also been chipping in by identifying localised solutions.

One such initiative is Bukit Batok East coming onboard to become the first residential estate in Singapore to adopt a voluntary smoking ban at the common public areas of one of its precincts.

Together with HPB, local residents of Bukit Batok East mapped the estate and set up clear markers to demarcate common community spaces as smoke-free zones.

A local team of Health Ambassadors was also deployed to the estate to help promote a smoke-free lifestyle and provide quitting advice.

For those who still want to smoke, there are designated smoking areas positioned in such a way as to limit the impact of any second-hand smoke.

About 100 smokers staying at Bukit Batok East have quit since the initiative began three months ago.

Providing about 150 touch points

Providing about 150 touch points

International studies show that most smokers have a relapse within eight days of an attempt to quit, and only five per cent manage to stay smoke-free beyond 12 months.

This is why HPB is working aggressively on providing a community-based supportive network made up of family, friends, ex-smokers and even Facebook acquaintances to support and encourage them not to give up when they fail at initial attempts, said Mr Ang.

Last year, HPB launched a mainstream campaign called "I Quit", encouraging smokers to make a personal pledge to quit by setting up more than 100 accessible touch points to provide a support network across the island.

Supported by a QuitLine and an I Quit Club on Facebook, these touch points have since increased from 100 to about 150, and include smoking cessation counsellors based at neighbourhood Community Clubs and pharmacies.

Smoking cessation programmes have also been developed in partnership with schools and workplaces.

So far, about 32 per cent of smokers who pledged to kick the habit have done so successfully.