Minimum Legal Smoking Age to be Raised to 21

Singapore will raise its minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21, in a move to make it harder for young people to start smoking when they are more vulnerable to peer pressure and nicotine addiction.

The restriction will include the sale of tobacco products, as well as the purchase, use and possession of tobacco products by under-21s. 

The legislative changes will be proposed in Parliament within a year, and phased in over a few years, announced Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday (9 March).

Nearly half of smokers here establish a regular habit before they turn 21. Raising the legal age is a further step to “reduce, if not eliminate, the opportunities for our young to be tempted and take up smoking before 21,” said Dr Khor.
The move comes as the number of tobacco retail outlets in Singapore has fallen to a record low, and a shisha ban that took full effect in August last year. 

Singapore is not the first to introduce such a measure, as some parts of the United States have enforced such a law. The move also aligns with the stance of the World Health Organisation, which stated in a 2008 report that people who do not start smoking before 21 are unlikely to ever begin. 

Public consultations, held from December 2015 to March last year, showed considerable support for raising the minimum legal age, said Dr Khor. 

Supporting the move, Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, noted: “Tobacco companies are known to target youth in their marketing to get them addicted as early as possible. Youths are also more susceptible to nicotine dependency.”

Several studies have found that adolescent brains are more vulnerable to the rewarding effects of nicotine, the addictive substance found in tobacco products.

Dr K. Thomas Abraham, chief executive of Sata CommHealth, said the latest measure will “effectively challenge perceptions of tobacco as a ‘normal’ product. At 21, adolescents become young adults who are more mature, more rational and less impulsive,” added Dr Abraham, an anti-smoking advocate.

Two-thirds of underage smokers in Singapore obtain their tobacco from friends and schoolmates, according to the latest Student Health Surveys (2014-2016). 

“We want to protect our young from the harms of tobacco, and lay the foundation for good health,” said Dr Khor.

Source: “Minimum legal age for smoking to be raised to 21” & Raising minimum legal age for smoking: Making it harder for youth to light up”, The Straits Times, 10 March 2017.

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