As an amendment to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, the Singapore government has made it illegal to buy, sell, use, or possess any imitation tobacco products, with effect Feb 1.
Such products comprise primarily e-cigarettes, dry tobacco snuff, shisha and chewing tobacco.
Anyone caught buying, possessing or using such products can be fined up to $2,000. Importing these items can land one in jail for up to six months and fined up to $10,000 for the first offence.
The Ministry of Health announced this move earlier today (26 Jan), stating it was commited to lowering the prevalence of smoking in Singapore” by “discouraging and reducing the use of tobacco products”.
However, not all Singaporeans are happy with the change. While some lauded it, the majority questioned its effectiveness, with many speculating possible agendas the government might have.
Loss of a healthier alternative
E-cigarettes were once touted as a healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes, as they do not contain tobacco and do not cause second-hand smoking.
A 2014 systematic review by Public Health England (PHE) found that e-cigarettes are less harmful than normal cigarettes because “there is no tobacco, no combustion, and users may avoid several harmful constituents usually found in tobacco smoke”. PHE also claimed that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than typical cigarettes, although this number has been contested.
As such, some smokers who are unable to completely quit smoking, but recognise it is a health hazard, have switched to e-cigarettes instead.
E-cigarettes might be able to aid smokers quit smoking
Singaporean Jimmy Wong suggested that as the amount of nicotine smoked in e-cigarettes can be controlled, smokers unable to ‘cold-turkey’ to quit smoking may be able to gradually lower their nicotine dependance over time.
A study by the Royal College of Physicians stated that: “On the basis of available evidence, e-cigarettes could lead to significant falls in the prevalence of smoking, prevent many deaths and episodes of serious illness, and help to reduce the social inequalities in health that tobacco smoking currently exacerbates.”
Some Singaporeans suggested a separate agenda for making imitation tobacco products illegal – because it is difficult for the government to tax them (they are currently not taxed).
Normal cigarette packs in Singapore are deemed as demerit goods and as such a tax is levied on them to reduce their consumption, something difficult to replicate with the wide range of imitation tobacco products. As such, banning them is the rational move for the government to optimise both its tax revenue and social good, at least from a superficial level.
However, this could have perverse effects of possibly widening income gaps, fueling underground illegal markets, and depriving some a healthier alternative to a bad habit they are trying to quit.
What do you think? Did MOH make the right decision in implementing such a law? Let us know in the Facebook comments section!