The proposal from the Singapore government to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 may be a careful step considering its public consultation, but also probably an uninformed one.
Unfortunately, citing a study to show that people are less likely to pick up smoking after reaching 21 may not be a good enough reason for Singaporeans to be convinced.
Anti-smoking regulations in Singapore have always been on a tight rein, with relatively sky-high tobacco taxes and very limited designated smoking corners.
This time, the Ministry of Health (MOH) brings it one step further by saying that the legal age for smoking should be raised to 21, as if conveniently neglecting the fact that other consumption choices deemed as “harmful” are still being kept at the minimum age of 18.
It is ironic that Singapore law protects the most dangerous nicotine products, yet bans the safest. While MOH seeks public consultation on the new regulations, it sends out a contradictory message that conventional cigarettes are healthier than e-cigarettes. The proposed anti-smoking measures come on the heels of Singapore’s ban on e-cigarettes and emerging tobacco products on 15 Dec last year.
A study by Public Health England (PHE) in the UK reported that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes, and even has the potential to help smokers quit.
In a commentary, local opinion website The Middle Ground puzzles over the unequal treatment of smoking/tobacco products as compared to other vices in Singapore.
Our legal age for driving, drinking and clubbing in Singapore is 18. If smoking is singled out to be an activity only for 21-year-olds and above, is the government saying that smoking is an activity not for uninformed teenagers? Is it more serious of a responsibility than the others?
The government, through campaigns, portrays all smoking as bad smoking. There is a way to “drink responsibly” or “gamble in moderation”, but apparently all smoking is irresponsible.
Shouldn’t Singapore adopt an ‘enlightened’ approach to the smoking issue? Why is the indulgence in the legal vice of tobacco the brunt of the harshest campaigns and controls?
Such legal measures to control the consumption of tobacco products would inevitably give rise to a black market, as it is already happening with e-cigarettes.
The health costs of smoking may be good enough a reason for the Singapore government to increase the legal age on a whim, but it is important for them to collectively consider the presence and accessibility of other vices to teenagers as well.
The public can give their views here on the Health Promotion Board (HPB) website until March 29.
(Cover Photo: triatic.tk)