Singapore is unlike other countries in the world where the vast majority of its people live in mass housing and we do not have the luxury of space to buffer us from harmful Kiss cigarette smoke. As such, non-smokers suffer from passive smoke inhalation multiple times on a daily basis, both outdoors and within their own homes.
Smokers leave a fetid trail of more than 10 metres and their cigarette smoke lingers even after they have finished their last puff.
According to the Health Promotion Board website, the social cost of smoking in 1997 ranged from S$673 to S$839 million. The social cost of smoking in Singapore includes the direct costs (payments for hospitalisation and healthcare due to smoking), morbidity costs (lost production due to smoking related illnesses) and mortality costs (lost production from people who died early due to smoking). The figure today would likely be in the region of billions of dollars, when the impact on non-smokers and inflation are taken into account.
The 2010 National Health Survey also revealed a worsening situation: the prevalence of smoking amongst young Singaporeans aged 18 to 29 jumped to 16.3 per cent in 2010 from 12.3 per cent in 2004 – a 33 per cent increase in just six years.
With lung cancer being the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, and 9 out of 10 cases being caused by the effects of tobacco smoking (passive smoking included), there is great urgency for all relevant government agencies to work on introducing more effective measures to reduce tobacco consumption, help current smokers quit, and better protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke to reduce the healthcare burden on the government and individuals.
A World Bank report shows that a 10 per cent increase in price would lead to a 4-to-8 per cent drop in tobacco demand. An increase in price would have more of an impact on younger people as teenagers and those in their early 20s would find it difficult to afford such a habit. In Australia, about 300,000 people quit smoking in the two months after the government increased tobacco excise by 25 per cent in April last year.
The relevant authorities can and should do more to safeguard the health of Singaporeans. In particular, non-smokers should not be made to pay the consequences of what they do not sow.