Our leaders have grand plans for Singapore. Amongst other things, we want to be a trading hub, arts hub, cultural hub, IP hub and global tourist hub. Seems like “hub” is the new “black”. But to what extent are these policy goals effective and are they consistent with the existing policies that make our garden city a clean, manicured, drug-free, smoke-free one.

We are beginning to wonder whether Singapore can have their cake and eat it too. Since the 1970s, the government has taken a clear stance against smoking, as seen by the progressive laws to keep smoking as far out of reach as possible.

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If the logical end goal of all these regulations are steps towards a “smoke-free nation”, we wonder how our status as an attractive tourist venue would be impacted. 

Right now, casinos allow indoor smoking, and we have not one, but two of them. Of course, detractors would take the view that we should not have them in the first place due to the fears of gambling bankrupting people. Yet, we must not forget what a great source of profit it has been for global companies that have taken root here and the benefits accrued from Marina Bay Sands forming part of our iconic skyline. Tourists who come to Singapore expecting menthol cigarettes would be sorely disappointed and might have to rely on their open pack from overseas. When that pack is finished, they might even have to to self-mentholate their classic cigarettes with medicated oil to get the smooth, minty finish they are used to. 

As previously questioned, would this knee-jerk, blanket “out of reach, out of sight” policy simply drive the problem underground? Especially for cigarettes which are so easily obtainable in our neighbouring countries and could even be considered a necessity for some. Would we see an excessive amount of black market parallel imports happening?

The future effectiveness of the current proposed policies by HPB is unknown. Although, one thing is for sure: it would impinge on consumer choice. Singaporeans should be left to make their own life decisions, as we feel the role of the government extends to making sure the choice is an informed one, and correspondingly minimal harms people surrounding them. 

If the end goal of a smoke-free nation is paramount, perhaps what can be done is to tackle the problem ground up and generate social awareness (e.g. creating viral anti-smoking campaigns). The government is privy to an array of policy tools, and should reconsider whipping out the most hard-lined one (short of banning tobacco) to tackle the incidence of lung cancer as a result from smoking.


HPB’s public consultation can be accessed here and runs till 29 March 2016.