Hong Da Eun has seen too many smokers litter irresponsibly in Korea. Smokers smoke in front of train exits and even near kindergartens, dumping these cigarette butts everywhere.

Now, as a foreign student pursuing her degree in Singapore, the 22-year-old prefers Singapore’s smoking rules instead of the lawlessness in Korea. Singapore’s smokers understand these rules too, smoking around trash bins and not lighting up in other areas where there are no smoking areas.

Smokers are lighting up at a bin in the Raffles Place area, but soon lighting up in Orchard Road may be more difficult than before (Photo: Kyle Malinda-White for Popspoken)

However, end-2018 will signal more rules for smokers in Singapore along the famous Orchard Road belt, as they will only be allowed to smoke at designated areas along the shopping belt.

As a non-smoker, Da Eun welcomes the feeling of walking down Orchard Road without getting caught in the smoke.

“Even though (the smokers) smoke near the trash bin, there’s always at least a person who smokes while walking,” she said. “So the ban will let non-smokers, including myself to enjoy Orchard Road more as we don’t have to walk inside the malls to avoid the smokers.”

For others affected by the rules, the ban is still vague. The location of these designated smoking areas have been marked but yet to be confirmed, and current smoking corners built by establishments along the new “No Smoking Zone” will have to make way for the new areas.

Adding to this, no new smoking corners will be approved after the ban comes into effect.

With shopping tourism receipts dropping 9% year-on-year according to data from the Singapore Tourism Board despite increasing tourist arrivals, how will added smoking bans affect Singapore’s shopping darling and what is being done to mitigate business and smoker impact?

Who owns smoking enforcement?

Source: National Environment Agency

The most obvious change to the new smoking rules for the Orchard Road belt is that all the designated smoking areas will no longer be on Orchard Road itself, instead tucked in side roads along the belt. (See the map here.)

For smokers who need a quick light-up during rush hour, finding the new smoking areas could mean more hassle, eating into a precious resource in a fast-moving retail economy: time.

“While the ban may reduce the amount of litter along Orchard Road, smokers may choose to ignore the ban and return to their usual smoking areas if designated areas are crowded, especially during lunch hour,” said Neo Kok Sheng, 21, a Singaporean working part-time in the Takashimaya department store at Ngee Ann City.

Enforcement may be an uphill climb, which has led to the National Environment Agency (NEA) going for the light-touch approach. The agency said in a 2017 press release that smokers caught lighting up within the first three months of the no-smoking ban in Orchard Road will be given verbal warnings.

Enforcement action will be taken after the three-month grace period; under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, an individual who is caught smoking in a prohibited place is liable to a fine of up to $1,000.

However, with over 32,000 prohibited premises for smoking, even NEA has said that it cannot deploy officers to watch over these locations at all times.

The onus now shifts to businesses and managers of smoke-free premises — as required by law — to ensure that smokers don’t light up at their premises by offering directional signage within their premises to a designated smoking area.

What is defined as a premise is still vague; if a smoker lights up on the Orchard Road walkway which is a public spot, who is in charge of ensuring that smoker leaves?

Can we treat smokers better?

Smoking booths like this provide a hospitable respite for both locals and tourists alike (Photo: Brenan Yeo for Popspoken)

Tobacco still rakes in big bucks for Singapore, bringing in the highest share of duties income for Singapore at 37%, according to revenue statistics from Singapore customs.

If locals and tourists who smoke are now to be seconded to smoking areas, perhaps we need to rethink how we treat a smoking population that continues to be consistent in size at more than 10% yearly.

According to NEA, each designated smoking area should come with signage, a cigarette butt canister or litter bin with an ashtray and smoking cessation messages. It’s a far cry from the smoking lounge provided to tourists at Changi Airport, which this YouTuber below called as “civilised”:

In Japan and Sweden, the presence of smoking booths (photo above) offers proper facilities for smokers and effectively shields secondhand smoke from non-smokers. However, it comes at a price, with a prefab booth from Japanese company Ryonetsu retailing for some S$2,600.

Given Orchard Road rentals hovering at among the 10 most expensive retail rentals in Asia according to a 2017 Cushman & Wakefield report, footing the cost of proper smoking areas for local and tourist smokers may soon be an added cost that private businesses, and soon its customers, will have to bear.

Is there much ado about nothing? Dian Wu who works at an office in Ngee Ann City thinks the ban does not actually affect non-smokers who are aware of the hotspots for smoking.

“I find that smokers already have their own ‘corners’, and non-smokers are not affected because they already avoid these areas,” the 22-year-old intern said.

Once the smoking ban gets implemented at the end of the year, we will be watching to see if it has any effects on both businesses and tourist smokers.

Some names in this story have been changed to maintain anonymity.

Featured photo: Syahiran Rafi for Popspoken


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