I couldn’t agree more with Chia Kee Seng’s letter “Singapore should aim to be smoke-free, not just smoke-lite,” (5 October 2017). Smoking is a vile habit that is not only socially unacceptable but has fatal consequences. Even the tobacco companies no longer deny the fact that their products kill. Governments around the world are right to make life exceedingly difficult for the tobacco companies.
Having said that, I believe the Dr. Chia’s approach may not necessarily work in the way that he hopes. The strict “parent-knows-best” approach has the potential to make an unpleasant habit “cool” or “edgy” with the youth. Bans, while popular with politicians needing to look tough, have a way of making things more encouraging for smugglers. As for the suggestion of increasing public awareness, the point remains – the danger caused by smoking is a well-known fact that has been drilled into the public throughout the years and the literature on the ill effects of smoking is more readily available than ever. The question is “what else can you tell people” remains a prominent one.
Just as it’s been popular to talk about being “tough on crime and the causes of crime,” perhaps the time is right to look at being the same on smoking. Governments around the world are tough on smoking but are they tough on the causes of smoking? Surely the answer to reduce rates of smoking is to look at why people smoke and offer them alternatives. In a modern economy, the most obvious answer to a social ill is to offer alternatives.
Dr. Chia has argued that alternative smoking products like e-cigarettes are just as bad as actual tobacco products and applauds banning them. I believe that the better approach is to challenge the tobacco industry to prove that the alternative products are better. Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco firm talks about a “Smoke-Free Future” and surely the best way to deal with the likes of Philip Morris is to challenge them to be as good as their word. They should be made to prove that the products are not dangerous. If the alternative tobacco products are as bad as the actual tobacco, challenge them to develop a product that isn’t so. This will encourage more R&D, which means high paying jobs. The idea is to get the tobacco companies to use their “ill-gotten gains” to do some good for the wider social scene.
Another alternative is to look at encouraging more physical/outdoor activities. There is enough science to show that exercise reduces the harmful effects of smoking. Earlier this year, the Independent Newspaper in the UK reported that Iceland had found a way to reduce teenage drinking, smoking and substance abuse by making physical activity more available – i.e getting kids to go for the “natural high” from physical activity. This is something worth doing and the government should look into increasing opportunities for the youth to do more exercise.