MP: Why I'm all for tobacco display ban
MP Louis Ng tells of struggle to quit smoking, supports amendment to Tobacco Bill
He threw away his last packet of cigarettes when he landed in Orlando, Florida, where he was going for a conference in Disneyland.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng regretted it right away, as he would be at the theme park for a week and it did not sell any cigarettes.
But it was this spur-of-the-moment decision in 2013 that eventually helped the smoker of 17 years to quit for good.
Mr Ng, 37, shared his personal story in Parliament yesterday as he expressed his support for an amendment to the Tobacco Bill that will control the sale and advertisement of tobacco products.
He told The New Paper yesterday: "I started out of curiosity in the second year of junior college and I had been trying to quit for the longest time. I eventually managed to quit four months before the birth of my daughter, who is now two."
In Parliament yesterday, Mr Ng described the difficulties he faced while trying to quit, such as trying to avoid places that sold cigarettes.
This is why he supports the Bill, which was passed yesterday, that will introduce the point-of-sale display ban of tobacco products.
He said: "This will not only help people who are trying to quit but also possibly reduce the number of people who are enticed to start smoking."
The Bill will also address new regulatory challenges posed by the tobacco industry, such as e-cigarettes and online advertising.
Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health In Singapore, told the House that about six Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each day.
Smoking rates have fallen over the years, from 18.3 per cent in 1992, to an all-time low of 12.6 per cent in 2004.
But in recent years, the prevalence has crept up to 13.3 per cent in 2013.
While supporting the Bill, several MPs urged the Ministry of Health to take it one step further by raising the minimum age of smoking from the current 18 to 21.
Mr Ng, who started smoking when he was about 18, supported raising the minimum age. He cited research from the World Health Organisation that shows that people who do not pick up smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to ever start smoking.
Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng called for the Ministry to consider a Tobacco-Free Generation policy, which means that anyone born after a certain date should not be allowed to buy tobacco.
Dr Tan, an oncologist, said: "I remember a patient who could not stop smoking even though he had been diagnosed with smoking-related disease, and had young children at home breathing his second-hand smoke.
"So while it is important to help existing smokers to quit, the greatest battle is upstream: for the hearts and minds of our children and youth, to make sure they never start smoking in the first place."
Dr Khor said that raising the minimum age is being considered as part of the ongoing public consultation on further enhancements to Singapore's tobacco control measures.
But she explained that a cohort ban would be easy to circumvent, and enforcement will be challenging and resource-intensive.
Dr Khor said: "The Ministry of Health is familiar with this proposal, and has given it a lot of thought. Our concerns are the significant practical difficulties and risks in implementing and enforcing such a ban; and it may not result in the desired reduction in smoking rates."
I eventually managed to quit four months before the birth of my daughter, who is now two.
- MP Louis Ng
CHANGES TO TOBACCO BILL
1 Ban on point-of-sale display of tobacco products, including cigars, beedies (hand-rolled cigarettes) and "ang hoon" (red tobacco in Hokkien).
2 Ban of electronic nicotine delivery systems (Ends) to include those that may not necessarily physically resemble cigarettes or other tobacco products. Advertisement of such products are also banned.
3 Ban on cross-border advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products on all media, including the Internet, originating from Singapore.
4 Customer loyalty programmes involving tobacco products, such as the redemption of reward points for tobacco products and other promotional schemes, are not allowed.
5 Authorised officers may seize the tobacco products of those under 18.
6 Police officers and authorised officers are empowered to ask a suspect to produce identification, search his bags and require him to reveal the contents of his pockets to prevent them from concealing evidence in their bags or pockets.