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Second-hand smoke in public places

By October this year, more public places will be declared non-smoking zones. The ban will then cover bus shelters, bus interchanges and public toilets. That's also the time when the ban on smoking in public swimming complexes, open air stadia and community clubs - currently enforced as a house rule - becomes official.
It seems that the number of public places in which a smoker can take a puff is slowly but surely dwindling in Singapore. As a non-smoker, I cannot appreciate the toll that the ban on smoking is taking on smokers. All I know is that there will be more public places where I do not have to force myself to breathe in air that is polluted by second-hand smoke.
Already, although the smoking ban is in place in many public places, I suffer the threat of second-hand smoke as I traverse such areas. Some smokers openly flout the law by partaking in their habit, oblivious to the inconvenience they are causing to non-smokers like me.
In many toilets of shopping centres, people indulge in this habit, albeit in the locked cubicles. Of course, one could argue that since they have enclosed themselves in the cubicles, they are actually being considerate to others frequenting the toilet. But, I become frustrated every time I enter a cubicle and have to suffer the second-hand smoke for the minutes that I spend in that enclosed space. It's worse than having someone smoke near me in the open area of a shopping centre.
I know of one shopping centre in Selegie Road where, on more than one occasion recently, I have seen groups of men smoking as they converse with one another in the wash area of the toilet. In the same shopping centre, on a different occasion, I even saw some youngsters openly flouting the smoking ban by smoking outside a lan-gaming shop in the air-conditioned basement shopping area, just next to a fast-food restaurant.
Should I have asserted my rights as a member of the public and approached them to remind them they were violating the law? No way! I would have risked a broken nose in the process. Just last month, in a small shopping centre in Hougang, I saw someone approaching a teenager who was puffing away in the air-conditioned lobby of the place, just outside a lan-gaming shop. When he told the young man not to smoke there, the boy retorted, "I like it, leh!" 
Making it an offence to smoke in certain public places is one thing, but policing the ban effectively is quite another. As the number of non-smoking public places increases, the job of policing becomes more difficult. There are only so many public health inspectors around. They certainly cannot watch every single toilet or shopping centre on the island.
We can only count on our public health inspectors catching a few culprits every now and then and making an example of them. But, will this deter the bulk of the smokers? I think those who have not been caught before will continue to play a cat-and-mouse game with the public health inspectors. 
The price of a stick of cigarette has gone up from S$0.20 in the mid 1980's to S$0.50 today. This, together with other governmental efforts at stubbing the problem, has led to a reduction of the number of smokers here, from 18%1 of the population in 1992 to 14% presently. The decrease is particularly significant for males aged 18-69 whose proportion has decreased from 33% to 24%.
But, there will always be teenagers willing to pick up the habit to boost their image in the presence of friends. To these teenagers, being able to smoke is akin to reaching adulthood, even though many of them are just entering adolescence. Then, there are those who succumb to peer pressure to become smokers.
Add to these, the boys who have entered national service and need to puff away their problems. Also, add to these, the growing proportion of female smokers aged 18-24, which almost tripled from 2.8% to 8.2%1, in contrast to a reduction from 29% to 24% for males in the same age group.
So, it's welcome news that the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources is considering imposing a smoking ban on youngsters' popular hangouts such as pubs, bars, discos, nightclubs and KTV lounges.
Even as I am preparing this column in my bedroom at 6am, second-hand smoke is wafting in from the flat just below mine. You see, my neighbour likes to puff away at his bedroom window. Every morning I have to close the bedroom window as soon as I get a whiff of the smoke. What can I say? That the Ministry of Health should also extend the smoking ban to cover HDB flats as well?
There are some areas where we should practise the 'live and let live' principle.
1 Smoking ban to cover more public places from 1 Oct 2005


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21 March 2005