In Singapore, you can hold a gun with live rounds at 18 but not smoke a cigarette at 21. This is probably the joke that has been circulating our friends, colleagues and family for the past few days. But can this “joke” shut everyone up and kerb teenage smoking in Singapore or end up being a real laughing-stock? Here’s what we think.
Disclaimer: This is not a news article. Purely based on our opinions and we try to keep it as balanced as possible.
Smoking Influences before 21 will Decrease.
Yes, we cannot deny the fact that chances of teenagers smoking for the first time before the age of 21 will be reduced. Underage smokers could ask friends and relatives to purchase cigarettes for them but how many times can they do it without getting caught? In theory, fewer opportunities (Specifically school and military environments) to pick up smoking results in fewer smokers. We all know it was quoted from WHO report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2008 that “people who do not start smoking before age 21 are unlikely to ever begin”. It’s the main reason why the government passed this new law in the first place.
Food for thought: Why a 9-year old report? WHO 2015 report does not have Singapore’s profile included yet as it’s still not finalised.
Smokers will be smokers.
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”
― Richard Lovelace, To Althea, from Prison
It takes more than physical limits to imprison a person’s mind or soul, especially towards smokers. If a person decides to smoke, no amount of taxes and law can bar him or her from doing so. With this, we may see an increase in the number of people breaking the law by engaging in illegal activities, namely buying contraband cigarettes. The plan to reduce smokers with the new law may just backfire on Singapore.
However, it is also important to take note that officials might have already foreseen this and has decided to slowly phase in the new law over the next few years. This leaves current smokers between ages 18-21 are unaffected.
Legal Age raised alone is not enough
Although the new law is clearly not enough to meet the objective of reducing smokers in Singapore, we do not suggest taxes either. That is plain stupidity since Singapore already has one of the highest cigarette tax. Increasing it any further may ironically encourage smokers to break the law and obtain cigarettes from illegal sources. If people are addicted or curious, it is pointless and obsolete to increase taxes and age limits further.
As cliché as it sounds (Yet we aren’t putting more emphasis), it will be a mistake unless we start to focus more on education: a longer term solution to this global epidemic.
We don’t want to be ordinary Singaporeans who complain and not provide solutions. Here are some less invasive solutions we thought of on the spot.
Related: Playing with fire: Singapore’s take on Fire Safety
• More education and campaigns on smoking and its harmful effects starting from school. Teachers should be reminded the importance of the part they play. Rushing through such crucial lesson periods and focusing on academics instead (which also subtly cultivates the elitist mindset in Singaporeans) should be frowned upon.
• Stop smokers from even beginning. All of us have seen students smoking at void decks at some point of our lives. Stop being a bystander and step in for God’s sake.
• Schools could implement surprise tests for smoking on students (Saliva, urine or blood tests depending on budget). Doing this once in a while can allow schools to enforce their rules too. Alternatively, more funding on smoke detector projects would help schools with their checks.
• Small things matter. Give non-smokers and former smokers a small incentive or even a thank you message. For a start, it helps to create a positive and friendly culture in Singapore. This in turns gives us one more little reason not to smoke.
• S$300 fine on underage seems to be rather ineffective. We could give it a try emphasising more on corrective and rehabilitative sessions for teenagers.
• Campaign more on social media platforms with visual posts and advertisements. Possibly focusing more on providing smokers with information on how to quit smoking. According to a study by Connected Life in late 2015 (source), Singaporeans aged between 16 and 30 spend 3.4 hours per day on average on mobile phones. One can safely assume that Facebook Ads and Google Adwords cost a lot less to reach out a larger targeted audience of young people.
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