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Tobacco-Free Generation in Singapore

Friday, October 21st, 2011

discount rich cigarettesI refer to Ms Coral Ang’s letter “The no-smoking path” (Oct 17) and Mr Muhammad Haziq Jani’s letter “No-smoking path is Utopian” (Oct 18).

One of the measures described by Ms Ang was to ban the sale of tobacco products to those born in or after the year 2000, which Mr Muhammad Haziq felt would make Singapore seem more authoritarian than it already is.

I am not a smoker, although I concur with him that smoking may have a “certain meaning” to current smokers.

But this tobacco control method, proposed last year by a team from the National Cancer Centre Singapore and the National University of Singapore, does not target current smokers and would be effective yet far less antagonistic.

Children now aged 11 and below will have at least seven years before they turn 18, the legal age to buy cigarettes, to accustom themselves to this idea.

During this period, their most impressionable years, the authorities could present the concept to them, reinforced year by year within the education system.

Past attempts to eradicate smoking have long been stymied by human rights. But if we create the right atmosphere and instil a pride among our children that they could be the first tobacco-free generation, the move need not be viewed as authoritarian.

The proposal is also likely to succeed because of several factors. The 2007 National Health Surveillance study showed that the smoking rate is highest, at 17.2 per cent, among young adults aged 18 to 29.

Youths are curious to try out smoking. Being in this age group, I have tried it once. We want to know what it feels like, and the long-term health effect is the last thing on our minds when we feel young and invincible.

Furthermore, the current concept of smoking being illegal for those under 18, but perfectly okay for adults, is counterproductive. Smoking becomes more desirable, like a badge of adulthood, and youths cannot wait to be old enough to smoke.

So let us remove the shine from the perception that it is an adult’s right to smoke.

Picking up smoking is largely due to peer pressure. So, if we can send the message of a tobacco-free generation to our youth with this proposal, we can clamp down on this significant contributing factor.

It is simple: My peers do not smoke, so I will not smoke because there is no fun in it. This is the demonstration effect we should aim for, not that of intolerance and antagonism towards current smokers when it comes to tobacco control.

The Towards Tobacco-Free Singapore Facebook group, which is pushing for the legislation of the proposal, has garnered 13,000 supporters.

We need the support of society at large, smokers and non-smokers alike, schools and government, and from youth as well.

It is time we stop segregating society into smokers and non-smokers but instead stand together to protect our children and their children.