Seven out of 10 stores sold cigarettes despite not seeing identification
Seven out of 10 stores sold cigarettes to The New Paper interns without identification
Don't I look 18?
This is the question convenience store owner Ong Liang Eng, 60, receives regularly from minors trying to buy cigarettes from him.
And when they are turned away, they get creative.
"Sometimes, these underage kids will ask the uncles hanging around outside my shop to buy cigarettes for them while they wait outside," said Mr Ong, who has been running his store at Toa Payoh North for about 40 years.
"But I've seen some of these uncles around for years and I know that some of them don't even smoke.
"I always remind them time and again that what they're doing is wrong. Some don't listen, but some will heed my advice and give the money back to the youngsters."
Mr Ong has a good reason for being vigilant against selling cigarettes to minors.
Last week, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said it revoked the retail licence of one store and suspended two others for selling tobacco products to minors under 18 years of age.
Bedok Goodwill Store at 79, Bedok North Road, had its tobacco licence revoked after it was caught selling tobacco products to three minors in school uniforms, despite having been suspended for a six-month period in 2012.
The store also charged the minors more for the cigarettes than the actual retail price.
A six-month suspension was also imposed on two other retailers - a 7-11 outlet at Block 523, Bukit Batok Street 52 and Blu Jaz restaurant at Bali Lane - for their first offence.
Those caught selling tobacco products to persons below the age of 18 are liable to a maximum $5,000 fine for a first offence and up to $10,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
The tobacco retail licence will also be suspended for six months for the first offence and revoked for the second offence.
Any store found selling tobacco products to minors below 12 years old or wearing a school uniform, will have its licence revoked even at the first offence.
However, some retailers do not seem fazed by these penalties.
The New Paper sent two interns, who are 18 years old, but look much younger, to 10 stores across Singapore to buy cigarettes.
Of the 10 stores, which included coffee shops and convenience stores, six of them sold them cigarettes without asking for proof of age.
One cashier asked for identification yet sold the intern cigarettes when she said she was 18 years old, but had left her identity card at home.
Only three stores - two 7-Eleven outlets and a Cheers outlet - refused to sell the cigarettes without identification.
The ease with which students can buy cigarettes has parents like Madam Tan Geck Choo, 52, concerned.
"As a parent, I think that cigarettes shouldn't be so easily accessible to these youths.
"It's good that HSA is clamping down on all these shop owners who allow minors to buy cigarettes," said Madam Tan, who has a daughter in Secondary 3 and two older sons in tertiary education.
Mr Mohamed Farook, 36, who owns Rifah Store at Compassvale LRT station, said he was not surprised at how easy it can be for minors to buy cigarettes.
"Some retailers might be very busy trying to handle customers in their stores so if they see someone who looks mature and is big-sized, they don't check their identity cards," he said.
The owner of the convenience store for the past 10 years also added: "I know the residents around here so I'm quite familiar with my regular customers.
"Those customers I've never seen before, I will always ask for identification."
According to HSA, 25 tobacco retail licences were suspended with 22 more revoked in the last three years.
Mr Farook said: "It's good that the authority revoke or suspends the licenses of retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, because smoking should be discouraged, especially among these teenagers."
- Additional reporting by Siti Nur Aisha Omar and Ho Yuen Teng
Sometimes these underage kids will ask the uncles hanging around outside my shop to buy cigarettes for them while they wait outside. But I've seen some of these uncles around for years and I know that some of them don't even smoke.
- Convenience store owner Ong Liang Eng