Smoke-Free Singapore: Maintain the Status Quo or Introduce E-Cigarettes?

As Singapore is on its way to becoming a smoke-free city by increasing the number of places where smoking is prohibited, many young people do not agree that placing bans and restrictions on smoking are the most effective solutions to get smokers to quit.

The country should be more open towards introducing less harmful alternatives such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to those who are on the road to quitting tobacco, they say.

Currently, e-cigarettes and vaping products are banned in Singapore.

To reduce the dangers of second-hand smoke and discourage smoking in public, many human-traffic heavy places will no longer have smoking zones. Food and Beverage outlets will no longer be allowed to apply for smoking corners.

The efforts are accelerating in Orchard Road as smoking corners that are part of food outlets must cease from June 30 next year. Smoking will only be permitted at NEA designated smoking areas within the shopping belt.

Many are skeptical that the additional restrictions will reduce the number of smokers in Singapore since those who are already addicted to tobacco will find ways to work around the restrictions.

“They (the bans and regulations) are not going to make people stop smoking. It will be slightly annoying, but people will find a way to light up in public places,” said a 25-year-old smoker who wishes to remain anonymous.

Another smoker, Sanjay Shivlal, added that smokers would adapt to the changes and regulations gradually.

“Will it change my lifestyle? No. Having to go to a designated smoking area is tedious and for some, out of the way. My smoke break will be delayed, but that’s not an issue,” said the 26-year-old.

Young people and undergraduates Popspoken interviewed said enforcing restrictions and raising the minimum legal age of smoking from 18 to 21 are not well-thought-out solutions.

Curiosity in adolescents might cause teenagers to be drawn towards unobtainable objects.

“Teens will always be attracted to things that are banned. With travelling and the internet, they will get their hands on things no matter how difficult it is,” said Chua Wee Siang, 38, a compliance professional.

Echoing his sentiments, undergraduate Basia Chow, 20, said: “From the viewpoint of smokers, I can understand why banning can do more harm than good, causing a reverse psychology effect where the more you ban, the more people want cigarettes that may lead to the rise of a black market.”

Smuggling contraband cigarettes into the country have been a common offence. For instance, in April, 10,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes were seized from a Malaysia-registered lorry at Tuas Checkpoint.

Welcoming other anti-smoking measures, many young people were favourable towards less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes that might help smokers quit tobacco.

They understood that going cold turkey immediately and abstaining from nicotine are unrealistic and difficult for many smokers.

Photo credits: The Straits Times
Photo credits: The Straits Times

Photo credits: The Straits Times

In a Twitter poll conducted by Popspoken, close to half of the respondents chose ‘e-cigarettes and alternatives’ as the most effective anti-smoking measure.

E-cigarettes are made of a solution that contains propylene glycol, glycerine, flavourings and sometimes, nicotine.

When inhaled, this e-liquid is vaporised. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not burn and produce tar and carbon monoxide. The vapour contains lower levels or harmful chemicals.

In its 2016 report, The Royal College of Physicians in Britain (RCP) stated that harm arising from long-term vapour inhalation from e-cigarettes is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.

Although more research needs to be carried out to prove that e-cigarettes will help smoking addicts quit, a number of research bodies advocate the use of e-cigarettes.

RCP in Britain stated that it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking in the United Kingdom.

Similarly, Britain’s Behavioural Insights Team stated that e-cigarettes are the most successful products to help people quit smoking, and almost all e-cigarette users are former tobacco smokers.

“Instead of banning lower risk products like e-cigarettes and heated products, we should get tobacco companies to spend money on research and the government should promote their use as a way to eradicate smoking,” said Wee Siang.

Basia suggested that e-cigarettes could be made available as a prescription for tobacco smokers looking to quit.

Nevertheless, the majority and non-smokers consider banning and restriction the best solution to creating a smoke-free Singapore.

In a Straits Times poll on 30 June to get readers’ opinions on the most effective anti-smoking measure in Orchard Road, more than half of the respondents chose ‘No smoking in Orchard Rd’.

“As a non-smoker I don’t empathise with smokers so I would say that I heartily approve of new smoke-free zones,” said Sarah Ng, an undergraduate.

The 19-year-old also cautioned against e-cigarettes getting into the hands of non-smokers, who may later proceed to traditional tobacco smoking, which could breed a new group of smokers.

“It is also likely that e-cigarettes could lead to a reversed impact, where non-smokers would be addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes and want to try tobacco smoking,” she said.


Cover image credit: Vaping360

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