No Smoking, Please!
Creating a Tobacco-Free Future for our Children
Tobacco usage is becoming a greater problem amongst the younger generation in Singapore. The initiation age of smoking in Singapore is around 12 to 13 years. Since 2006, there have been around 6000 underage persons caught purchasing cigarettes annually. Although smoking rates had been falling for some time, the proportion of Singaporeans aged 18 to 29 who smoke appears to be increasing – from 12% in 2004 to 17% in 2007.
More recently in Parliament, it was highlighted that up to 6947 underage persons were caught buying cigarettes in 2010. The most recent figures from the National Health Survey conducted in 2010 indicate an alarming increase in the prevalence of smoking amongst young Singaporeans aged 18 to 29, which has jumped up to 16.3% from 12.3% in 2004 – this represents a 33% increase in just six years.
The Price of Smoking
A study by the National University of Singapore and National Technological University published in 2002 demonstrated that the social cost of smoking as a result of hospital expenses and loss of productivity from 5 major smoking-related diseases and mortality was between $700 million and $800 million in 1997 (Quah et al, SMJ 2002).
Smoking kills half its long-term users – reducing life expectancy by an average 10 years. It doesn’t just reduce life expectancy, it affects quality of life too – with serious effects on breathing, digestion, eyesight, sexual function, and many others. Second-hand smoke is also a major health hazard which affects children in particular.
Some people argue that there are people who grow old and have been smoking for a long time. From the Doll et al. study published by the Medical Research Council in the UK, it was revealed that 30% of non-smokers live to 90 while only 4% of smokers live to 90.
Tobacco-free Singapore Movement
Currently, individuals who are 18 years and above are permitted to purchase tobacco (eg. cigarettes, cigars). Ironically, nearly 7000 kids are taking up tobacco annually even before 18 years old.
Now, a movement called “Towards Tobacco-free Singapore (http://www.tobaccofreesingapore.info) aims to create the first tobacco-free generation in the world by nurturing a new mindset in those born from 1 January 2000. This proposal, born out of Singapore, entitled “Phasing-out Tobacco: Proposal To Deny Access To Tobacco For Those Born From 2000”, was published in the Journal of Tobacco Control 2010 (free access at http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/19/5/355.full.pdf). Developed in 2011 by a team consisting of a lung cancer surgeon, medical officers, a university professor and a civil servant, their goal is reduce the number of underage smokers in Singapore, and work slowly towards a totally tobacco-free Singapore. By replacing the existing age-limit of 18-years with a year-of-birth limit, Singaporeans born this century will be protected for their entire lives. In 1971, Singapore became the first country in the world to ban tobacco advertising and it hopes to lead the world again by supporting this movement and proposal .
Under present laws, a child born in 2000 can legally be provided with cigarettes from 2018 onwards. Under this proposed law, when 2018 comes, it will continue to be illegal to sell them cigarettes. Easier than the present law, because no one has to calculate an age. The retailer just has to look at an identity card and see whether the birth date is before 2000 or after. To be able to tell whether the person was born from 2000, the vendor just needs to check that the IC birth-year begins with a 1 and not a 2 – simple enough, no matter what age the customer is. Customers will also soon learn: no show, no sale.
Show Your Support!
Equally important, it is important that one should not be antagonistic to current smokers. Should you support their cause, kindly promote the notion that kids born in and after year 2000 should be nurtured to think and articulate proudly that they will forever stay away from tobacco, even after they are 18 years old. The children born from 1 Jan 2000 are in Primary 6 now. You could encourage schools to similarly adopt this as an education goal. You can actively write to the media in support of this movement. This is easily done via a direct link on the website www.tobaccofreesingapore.info. You can also register your interest in the movement by e-mailing to email@example.com so that you can keep you informed of future activities. You can also join their Facebook page – “Towards Tobacco-free Singapore.”
Blow Shisha Goodbye!
It’s not only cigarettes that get people dependent on tobacco. Shishas ( or Hookahs), staples of Middle Eastern café society, are water pipes used to smoke tobacco through a hose with a tapered mouthpiece. There’s a myth going around that shishas are safer because the smoke is cooled when it passes through the water. In Singapore, smoking the water pipe shisha has become a trend for local youths hanging out in Middle Eastern-themed cafes in the Kampong Glam area, especially in Haji Lane and Arab Street.
But take a look at the black, resinous gunk that builds up in a hookah hose. Some of that gets into users’ mouths and lungs. Indeed, experts say shishas are no safer than cigarettes — and since they don’t have filters and people often use them for long periods, the health risks might be even greater. Shishas are usually shared, so there’s the additional risk from germs being passed around along with
According to recent research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is estimated that a smoker inhales half a litre of smoke per cigarette, while a shisha smoke can take in anything from just under a sixth of a litre to as much as a litre of smoke per inhalation.
In addition, experts at the London-based Department of Health and the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre have found that one session of smoking shisha resulted in carbon monoxide
levels spiking to at least four times more than the amount produced by one cigarette.
Grim Statistics on Smoking!
• On average, 7 Singaporeans die each day from smoking.
• At current rates, tobacco will kill 1 out of every 13 Singaporean children born from the year 2000.
• More Singaporeans die in just one month from tobacco than in a whole year from traffic accidents.
• Second-hand smoke kills 600,000 people, including 165,000 children, worldwide each year.
• About 250 non-smokers die each year in Singapore from exposure to second-hand smoke.
• Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.
• Nicotine is highly addictive – 95% of smokers say they would like to quit but two-thirds of smokers remain smokers until they die.
The only thing that really helps a person avoid the problems associated with smoking is staying smoke free. This isn’t always easy, especially if everyone around you is smoking and offering you cigarettes. It may help to have your reasons for not smoking ready for times you may feel the pressure, such as “I just don’t like it” or “I want to stay in shape for soccer” (or football, basketball, or other sport). If you do want to quit, here are starter tips:
• Have lots of information and support available. Different approaches to quitting work for different people. For some, quitting cold turkey is best. Others find that a slower approach is the way to go. Some people find that it helps to go to a support group especially for teens. These are sometimes sponsored by local hospitals or organizations like the American Cancer Society. The Internet offers a number of good resources to help people quit smoking.
• When quitting, it can be helpful to realize that the first few days are the hardest. So don’t give up. Some people find they have a few relapses before they manage to quit for good.