Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Confessions of a Nicotine Addict


“Hello, my name is Jude, and I’m a nicotine addict.”

I’ve been addicted to cigarettes ever since it was legal for me to light up, which in Singapore is 18 years old.
“One puff and you’re hooked,” warned an old Singapore anti-smoking campaign. And it was not far from the truth. It’s a pity I was never too good at listening to authorities.

While serving in the army, cigarettes were a prized commodity that even money couldn’t buy. Indeed, “smoking is a privilege”, the instructors often reminded my fellow smokers and I – the preamble to us grovelling for a smoking break, often at the cost of extra duties, which we would gladly sacrifice for a puff.

When it was time for jungle survival training, where we were dropped individually in remote locations to fend for ourselves and live off the land, more than one of my compatriots smuggled Snickers bars to keep from starving. I smuggled in a pack of Marlboro, carefully implanted into my First Aid Dressing kit with near-surgical precision to keep from getting discovered.

“I could probably catch a fish or two, or find some edible plant roots,” I reasoned. “But what are the odds I could find a tobacco plant I could roll up and smoke?”

For years, cigarettes were my closest companions: I never left home without them; no matter if I was sad, or happy, or tired, or high, or just bored, there was always a reason to break one out of the box and light up.
Long-haul flights were my greatest fear. On a 16-hour journey to Barcelona via London, I found myself shivering from nicotine withdrawal. My face went numb, my fingers were tingling, and I could not keep awake even to enjoy the delicious inflight fare.

You could imagine my horror as I stumbled off the plane in transit, desperate to rekindle the fire of my relationship with my best friends, only to discover that London Heathrow Airport was a smoke-free facility.
Let me be clear: I did not smoke because it was cool. And I would never encourage anyone to pick up the habit. If you do not smoke, you should not start. Never mind that I smelled like an ashtray (I could hardly smell anyway, years of smoking a pack or two a day had decimated my olfactory senses), had yellowed teeth and fingers, and alternated between coughing and clearing my throat every 15 seconds.

I smoked for one simple reason: I was dependent on it. I was – and still am – a nicotine addict.

Getting Through the Vape Tape

At the nagging of the G (that’s Girlfriend, not Government), I quit smoking last year. But the nicotine withdrawal proved too much to handle, and I picked up vaping.

“What’s the damn difference?” you ask, rolling your eyes.
Well, a whole lot.

Electronic cigarettes (or vapourisers, as they are commonly known), typically use a battery-operated mod which fires up an atomiser unit. E-liquid – commonly comprising propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, and assorted flavourings – is heated by the atomiser to release a nicotine-laced vapour that is inhaled into the lungs, not unlike with conventional cigarettes.

But without the burning as with conventional cigarettes, there is no carbon monoxide and tar. The absence of burning also means there is no choking smell of smoke, which clings to your clothes and hair. It also reduces the number of cancer-causing carcinogens and toxic chemicals that are released through burning in a cigarette. Because that is just science.

But let me be clear: vaping is certainly neither healthy nor harm-free. Nicotine is still inhaled through e-cigarettes, potentially causing addiction and vascular damage, among other side effects and risks.
And there are insufficient studies to determine the possible adverse effects vaping of chemicals such as propylene glycol has on health, let alone other unknown chemicals that could be added by e-liquid manufacturers because of a lack of government regulation.

Indeed, technological and medical advances have brought the tobacco industry to a crossroad.

Stubbing Out Conventional Cigarettes

According to media reports, the global e-cigarette market is expected to be worth some US$3.5 billion by 2015.
E-cigarette use among American high school students jumped almost tenfold from 2011-2014. Over the same period, the proportion of high schoolers who reported smoking cigarettes dropped from 15.8 per cent to 9.2 per cent, US-based public health institute Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April.
Already, Big Tobacco has made its entry into the fast-growing e-cigarette market.
Key vendors in the e-cigarette currently include tobacco giants Altria Group, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group, and Reynolds American.

At the same time, the tobacco industry is moving towards the creation of alternative products that purport to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
Philip Morris International (PMI), for example, recently launched in Milan and Nagoya a new type of cigarette, which heats tobacco rather than burning it. According to PMI’s team of research scientists, such heat-not-burn cigarettes could deliver fewer toxins than conventional sticks and more pleasure than mere vapour found in e-cigarettes.

But regardless of the science and possibility of reduced health risks for smokers, e-cigarettes and other “cancer stick” alternatives will be stubbed out following Singapore’s announced blanket ban on emerging tobacco products from Dec 15, 2015.

In the face of possible reduced risk alternatives, the Republic’s impending emerging tobacco products ban is troubling. What is needed is not an outright ban, but stringent scientific testing and improved regulation put in place to ensure, for instance, that youths will not be allowed to buy these alternative tobacco products.
And yet, the G (that’s Government, not Girlfriend) has decided go for a blanket ban, and eventually move towards a smoke-free Singapore.
Meanwhile, those who choose to smoke but prefer a less harmful alternative are handed the short end of the stick: quit smoking, or continue smoking cancer-causing cigarettes – and die.

Read more: Confessions of a Nicotine Addict http://www.establishmentpost.com/confessions-nicotine-addict/#ixzz3hC3WksMt 

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Officer – Gentleman – Champion of the Working Man

Singapore’s Generals have been getting a lot of flak lately. The reason for this was simple – a recent breakdown in the MRT, which involved the CEO of the SMRT Corporation (a former 3-Star General) and the Minister of Transport (a former 2-star Admiral). Everybody in cyberspace has been quick to criticize the fact that the former military men, while having impeccable academic credentials, have simply been plonked into highly paid and high profile positions – our generals, unlike places like the US or UK, can’t even claim to have “Combat Experience.” As most Singaporeans who have served national service will point out – being a general in Singapore is easy as long as you’ve got the right papers – your promotion is guaranteed and you are actually protected from the need to prove your professional competence.

Amidst all of this, there is a Singaporean General who’s bucked the trend of negative publicity and actually gained public recognition of sorts for being – well, a good leader. I am proud to say that the general in question is my former Battery Commander, Lam Sheau Kai, and the Current Commander of Combat Service Support (CSS). General Lam, who was newly promoted this year was caught on camera doing something SAF Generals are not known for doing – sweating alongside his men – the full story can be found at http://www.allsingaporestuff.com/article/garang-saf-one-star-general-packs-countless-ndp-goodie-bags-together-his-men.

On a personal level, I’m happy that General Lam is getting the recognition he deserves. The man is a genuine walking advert for Singapore Military Leadership – he actually believes in leading by example and communicating with the men. I remember when he took over Alpha Battery of 23 SA back in 1996/97. He started using Hokkien (main dialect of Singapore’s Chinese population). For the officers and specialist of the battery, he ended the practice is pointless endurance meetings – he meant it when he stated that he believed that any meeting above an hour was unproductive. More importantly, he took made it a point of knowing us on a personal level. Interviewed me several times when I asked him to be my referee for university.

I know the man well enough to say that the online story that’s boosting his image is not one that he created. I know him well enough to know that he started helping the men pack the NDP Fun Packs (over 1 million packs that need to be packed before August) because he genuinely believes he needs to work with the men to lead the men.
Other that, I’m not going to publicise General Lam as I believe he’d be most horrified by my efforts to sing his praises. Instead, I believe there’s a happier picture in the sudden boost to his online fame.
The fact is, General Lam is leading the least glamourous and therefore the most overlooked side of the army. Combat Support Services involves the guys like store men, drivers and cooks. These are the guys who work hard to ensure that the frontline troops get to where they need to, are well fed and have the right equipment. In short, they provide the necessary services but the ones nobody wants to do.

The army isn’t the only place where such people exist. Just think of the medical profession where everyone wants to become a doctor but nobody wants to become a nurse. The doctors get the glory for curing the patient but it’s the nurses who take care of the patient from the point of entry into the hospital or clinic and doctors often work on the information provided by the nurses. Healthcare, as they say, is actually run by the nurses.

In the media business there is something similar. Everyone wants to be a reporter and to be the character that breaks the story and gets his or her name mentioned. What nobody talks about is the fact that it is sub-editors who bring the paper out by acting as final check of facts, grammar and so on. It’s the subs who come up with the headlines that we all read but they never get the recognition for it.

Life is filled with people who do tough and menial jobs that are essential to keep things going. Yet, more often than not, everyone forgets about them.

I see General Lam’s online praise as something that goes beyond the man himself. It’s like – finally, the people behind the scenes getting praised.

Think of it, we’re going to be having a huge National Day Parade this year to celebrate our 50 Years as an Independent Nation. Much will be made of the fireworks display and the exhibits. The parade commander will be the centre of National Attention and everyone will be watching the Guard of Honour. Nobody will think of the guys who made it all happen behind the scene.

Well, it looks like that might change thanks to General Lam and his team. Thank goodness some attention will be focused on the people who made it happen. It’s about time someone remembered the people who make things happen behind the scenes. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

It just takes a match

There is a video going round cyberspace, which has proven to be a very instructive guide into the state of race relations in Singapore. The video was taken on an MRT and it shows an elderly Caucasian man behaving in an abusive manner towards an unseen Singaporean teenager. Finally another commuter has had enough and tells the old geezer where to get off. The police then get involved and the old man and the commuter who stood up for the victim are called off the train. The video of the incident can be seen at http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2015/07/abusive-man-on-train-told-off-by-commuter/.

What has been encouraging about this incident has been the fact that is has created a new hero for the people. The man who confronted the abusive passenger appears to be Malay, while the victim of the abuse appears to be Chinese. In the 14-years since I’ve moved back, 

I’ve found very little imagery of Malays in Singapore being portrayed as heroes for the majority Chinese population. September 11 didn’t help either. If you read official statements on “Malay-Muslims” you’ll often find that there’s an underlying message – “Ditch the religion – get with the program.” Talk to enough Singaporean Chinese and you’ll find that there’s still a huge misunderstanding of the Malay Community – whatever the PAP government may tell you.

So, this situation being broadcast all over the social media couldn’t come at a better time. Singapore needs to see the Malay community as being part of the wider community. The majority, especially the Western Educated need to see that Malays and Indians are on the same side as everyone else. The best part about the whole situation was the fact that the young man was humble enough to point out that he was merely standing up for someone else’s rights as a citizen.

It didn’t help that the abusive Old Man was a White Englishman, thus adding to the potentially combustible situation of race relations. You could say that this man was a yob and would probably have been an abusive arsehole in England too.

However, he wasn’t caught being abusive in England, he was caught being abusive in Singapore, which as much as many Singaporeans may not like to admit, is part of Asia and in Asia, the colour of your skin does determine where people fit in.

Generally speaking, Singaporeans, like other Asian tend to give Caucasians plenty of leeway. I remember a publisher of a series of magazines describing a good friend of mine as being, “The living example of the sad fact that Asians simply cannot see beyond White Skin.” Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that we were once a colony. As the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said in his biography, “The superiority of the White Man was a fact of life.”
Our economic miracle also enforced the position that White people were the natural leaders in culture and economics. While the majority of post-colonial societies screwed themselves by being culturally proud, we in Singapore sold ourselves to White Colonial multinationals and prospered.

While the majority of White Expatriates are decent and hardworking people, Singaporeans have been trained from birth to think of them as the bringers of all things good. We are prosperous because they made us so goes the rationale. Ironically, this rationale has grown stronger among Asians as it has dwindled among Caucasians.

So, while the majority of Caucasians in Asia are decent people (including many of my friends), the system does encourage the week minded among the community to develop superiority complexes.

Doesn’t help that the law of the land tends to be applied differently when it comes to people of the fairer complexion. I know of an Afrikaner who got his employment pass approved the moment the immigration authorities understood that South African did not necessarily mean the man was black. Think of how quickly the police work to corner Indian and Bangladeshi workers sitting in a corner minding their own business and by comparison seem powerless to do anything when Caucasians physically assault Singaporeans (they are less powerless when Singaporeans assault Caucasians.).

This incident proved that things might be changing. If cyberspace is an indication of things, the public is getting loss tolerant of yob like behavior – even from Caucasians.

Which leads to a more worrying point. The crowd on the MRT remind silent while the old man hurled abuse and threatened the young man. It was as if they were cowed. Then when it someone took the step of standing up to the bully, the entire train erupted – you could actually hear people yelling, ”Go back to you own country.”

This type of emotion is dangerous. It’s the type of thing that skillful demagogues thrive on. A mob, as one author described, is not a collection of people but a single entity. Logic and reason do not exist within the mob.

It took one guy to be different and suddenly the crowd which was passive became emotional. In this case it didn’t go beyond a few shouts – but what if it did?

This video has remained largely confined to cyberspace but Singapore’s social planners need to look at this incident more carefully. There are pent up emotions and there needs to be a way of letting these emotions subside or be released. If they are ignored, who knows what will set them off into something more drastic.