Singapore

Age limit for smoking to be raised gradually until 2021

Parliament approves amendments to Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act

The age limit for smoking will be raised to 19 on Jan 1, 2019, as Singapore intensifies its efforts to get people to stub out.

It will then be raised progressively every January until 2021 when smokers have to be 21 before they can light up.

Currently, the age limit is 18.

The amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, approved by Parliament yesterday, also bans people from buying, using and owning imitation tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, e-cigars and e-pipes.

The Straits Times understands that the ban will start early next year.

This move extends the current ban on the sale, import and distribution of battery-powered devices that heat nicotine-infused liquids to produce a vapour for inhalation.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin, said the measures are to "de-normalise" the use of tobacco products over time and deny youths access to cigarettes.

PEER PRESSURE

Studies show young people get their cigarettes from friends and schoolmates, he said, when tabling the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill for debate.

Social and peer pressure also strongly influence them to start smoking, he added when explaining the move to raise the minimum smoking age to 21.

Although Health Promotion Board's data show the proportion of smokers here has fallen from over 18 per cent in 1990s to around 12 per cent and 14 per cent in the past 10 years, Mr Amrin believes it can be reduced further.

He noted that compared to other countries, more men here tend to smoke.

The proportion in Australia is 14.5 per cent and 15.6 per cent in the US, versus 23 per cent in Singapore.

Also, about 95 per cent of smokers here took their first puff before they turn 21, Mr Amrin said.

And 45 per cent cultivated the habit between 18 and 21.

Research in the US found the brains of adolescents are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction, Mr Amrin said, adding that "smokers who start earlier also find it harder to quit later in life".

He was also wary of imitative tobacco products, saying the Health Ministry considers them gateway products that get users hooked on nicotine, which then leads to cigarette use.

He dismissed claims that these products are less harmful than cigarettes.

"Some of these (claims) actually come from research sponsored by the tobacco industry."

To ensure the changes are effective, the MOH will work with customs and other agencies to fight illicit trade in cigarettes, he said.

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