The minimum legal age to smoke will be raised from 18 to 21, announced Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor in Parliament on Thursday (March 9).
Proposed changes to the law will be tabled in Parliament within a year, and the change will be phased in over a few years after the law is passed. Youths above 18 who are already smokers will not be affected by the change.
The Government wants to cut, if not eliminate, opportunities for the young to be tempted to take up smoking before they turn 21.
It is raising the minimum legal age to smoke, buy and possess tobacco because most smokers start before the age of 21 and a habit is established between the age of 18 and 20, said the Ministry of Health. In Singapore, 19 out of 20 smokers in the National Health Surveillance Survey 2013 had their first puff before age 21. The minimum legal age of 18 for smoking has been in force since 1993.
The prevalence of smoking in Singapore has improved over the years — from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 per cent in 2013, but the smoking rates among young men are still high, while the smoking rates of young women are creeping up.
Research has also shown adolescent brains to be more vulnerable to nicotine, as they have a heightened sensitivity to the rewarding effects of nicotine. Studies also show the younger that youths are when they first try smoking, the greater the levels of nicotine addiction, intensity of smoking and likelihood of continuing to smoke into adulthood, said the MOH.
Singapore has rolled out other anti-smoking measures in recent years. The import and sale of e-cigarettes and products such as nasal snuff and oral snuff are not allowed, and Dr Khor told Parliament last week that there is no compelling reason or practical benefit in allowing heated tobacco products as it could draw a much larger group of users, especially among youth.
Last year, the government extended smoking prohibition to areas around reservoirs and more than 400 parks. More than 32,000 premises are now smoke-free in Singapore and Dr Khor said on Wednesday it will look into progressively extending the smoking prohibition to other areas.
Singapore is also taking steps to standardise tobacco packaging, as Australia, France and the United Kingdom have done, said Dr Khor on Thursday.
“We have closely studied the experience of these countries, and see significant value in moving in this direction, so as to reduce the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to youths, and raise the visibility and effectiveness of health warnings,” she said.
“We will conduct a further public consultation on standardised packaging this year to seek additional and more detailed views on possible standardised packaging measures. We will carefully review relevant considerations including public health, intellectual property and international law perspectives and ensure that any measures taken are consistent with our domestic law and international obligations.”
The authorities will continue to monitor international best practices in tobacco control and will adopt appropriate measures to control tobacco use, she said.