Will increasing the smoking age to 21 & tobacco media control be a “smokeless” difference?

*When I say “smokeless” – it is meant to be a pun. If taken literally, it can mean lesser smoking in Singapore. If interpreted figuratively, it can also be implied as little difference being made.

One reason the government might have pushed for newer tobacco laws revision recently

“I’ll wait for the liberal west to do, so that I won’t look too conservative.”

The government do not have to worry about being perceived as overly strict, or backward with their push for tighter tobacco laws as a few western states / countries have already implemented it e.g. New YorkCleverlandHawaiiBostonBerkeley – on raising the minimal smoking age; Australia and UK – on introducing the plain packaging ban.

[Other countries with minimum smoking age of 21 and above]

Honduras (Americas)   Kuwait (Asia)   Sri Lanka (Asia)   Samoa (Oceania)

*To throw out a fun fact, many people do not realize we have a slightly more liberal stance compared to some states of US in some areas:

Minimum age to get a tattoo: US – 16/18, and those below legal age usually have to get parental consent. For Singapore, there is no minimum legal age, though tattoo artists usually do not serve those below 18, unless with parental consent.

Minimum drinking age: 21 for US, 18 for Singapore

Age of consent (sex): 16-18 for US, 16 for Singapore

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2008 that people who do not start smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to start. 

Still, the relevance of the research results might differ from environments to environments, considering the complex extraneous factors:

  • Individual (e.g. perspective towards the act of smoking)

  • Family culture (e.g. norms, and views towards smoking)
  • Demographics (e.g. race, financial status)
  • Peers/colleague network (e.g. hangout regularly with non-smokers or smokers?)
  • Social support (e.g. feel emotionally supported during times of needs)
  • Religion (e.g. smoking might not be encouraged)
  • Life events (e.g. sudden death of family)
  • Lifestyle (e.g. see smoking as a social activity)
  • Stress of environment (e.g. competitive workplace)
  • Societal norms towards smoking (e.g. smoking rates of country)
  • Media control (e.g. State laws on tobacco exposure in business or media platforms, smoking culture)
  • Legal regulations or organizational rules (e.g. no smoking in public places or office)

As such, I do not place substantial weight when relating back the research findings to different countries or demographics.

At what age are we deem fit to make an informed choice?

Legally, we are entrusted with the responsibility to keep and use a rifle (*during national conscription); we can also club, drive, consume alcohol, abort a child, get a tattoo, gamble, have sex, watch a M18 film on adult themes, marry (with parental consent) before 21, but the same right is not given for smoking.

Question to reflect: Does state intervention have inconsistencies towards the benchmark for minimum age?

Relevance of increasing the minimum smoking age in lowering smoking rates

The aim is to reduce the smoking population in the long run. However, it is not extremely rare if you are introduced to smoking, or experiment with it during your school years. Youths are at the experimental phase – they want to look cool, fit in, try new things their peers engage in, and have a tendency to desire for novel, hard to get things that goes against the rules.

To increase the minimum age to 21, it will just ooze out their rebellious spirit even further. However, a significant reason on why statistics of underage smokers could become higher if the minimal age is raised to 21 – would be the “additional 3 years” of underage smokers (age 18-20).

Food for thought:

Would those below 21 might end up picking up smoking at a higher proportion after the implementation of this law?

Which means increasing the minimum smoking age to 21 could backfire and boost the underage illicit trade or the numbers of youths experimenting with it, which might cultivate into a long-term habit for young smokers, resulting in a higher future smoking population?

Either that or,

the raising of the legal smoking age to 21 could actually effectively deter those below 21 from smoking because they do not want to get into trouble with the law. And they would have formed critical thinking skills to make better informed choices on their smoking habits by the age of 21?

 

Media control on tobacco-related content

 We as young Singaporeans are not even exposed to the concept of – tobacco advertising itself in our media and print platforms, what more not to say on being aware of it’s existence? (*I also just realised that our mainstream media allows alcohol advertising hmm.. so why the inconsistency in media vices? Alcohol advertising should be banned too as such.) 

Pros for non-smokers

  • Act of smoking is not normalized as a form of consumerism.

Individuals not exposed to regular smokers would just view different cigarette brands as “cigarettes” as a whole, and not as variety of choices to choose from e.g. brand A, B, C.

Cons for tobacco industry

  • Tobacco companies not able to use the media platform to market out their products to their target population.
  • (Plain packaging ban) Reduced brand identity could lead to lower distinction between competitors, and consumer’s priority given to product affordability instead of brand variety.
  • The plain packaging ban could lead to younger generations of smokers choosing more cost-friendly cigarettes, which means costly cigarette brands could suffer a drop in their product demand, which reduces their earned profits.

Government’s rationale for the enhanced graphic health warning on packaging:

Currently, health warnings carrying graphic images, such as of decaying teeth and the effects of cancer, must take up 50 per cent of the front and back of tobacco packaging. The WHO, however, has recommended increasing this.

“Horror” imagery in cigarette packets

Many of us might have long been numbed to the fake “scary” images. Real hard statistics, or realistic images could be another more impactful alternative to not only convey the message of “smoking is unhealthy”, but also provide substantial evidence to back it up e.g. X% of smokers have lost their lives to….

10 possible questions/issues to ponder on if we implement these new tobacco law revisions

  • Why those under 21 can take on heavier responsibilities and make their own life decisions, but ironically, not given the freewill and trust when it comes to smoking?
  • Find ways to prevent polytechnic students and National Service men under 21 from smoking secretly in the school or military compound. Should we place smoke sensors in hidden smoking spots of polytechnics like how some secondary schools which install “smokerlysers”? But students might still find other ways, and hidden areas to smoke.
  • Could we display in print the heavy fines underage smokers have to pay (*in shops selling tobacco and youth hangouts), to send them a direct message of the consequence of purchasing and using tobacco products?
  • Youth-at-risks can do community service by collaborating with police and going undercover as underage smokers, to catch shops that sell cigarettes to underage smokers?
  • Will we treat underage tourists the same under the eyes of the law, and check their identification?
  • Would it be illegal for those under 21 who are working at retail shops with cigarette products to mind and sell tobacco products?
  • And even if it is made legal, public may question – why are under 21 youths’ allowed to sell tobacco products to others, but not allowed to use it themselves?
  • Illicit trade might thrive from increased underage smokers (*similar to the underground drug industry) since same rate of production will still be the same, regardless of law revisions.
  • Enhanced graphic health warnings and plain packaging ban – how can it be more effectively utilised in conveying the harmful effects of smoking?
  • Will Singapore be pulled into potential costly lawsuits by tobacco companies for our potential plain packaging ban?

Quoted from Straits Times (2015): 

.. big tobacco firms…have launched legal challenges against such laws, arguing they impinge on their trademark intellectual property.

Afterthoughts

What tobacco law implementations would lead to a “smoke-less” youth and adult population? You yourself as readers can research, analyse, before forming your own informed views 🙂

For informative reading on governmental laws towards Tobacco:

To check out our other posts on e-cigarettes:

[Investigative Journalism] Legalizing the electronic puff

1

Investigative Journalism: The never-ending “smokeless” health confusion over e-cigarettes

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Written by: Cass

Picture taken from: Mirror

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