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Lee a pioneer in fight against smoking

7 Apr 2015

Lee Kuan Yew has been memorialised in many ways since he died last month, but his most lasting and enduring legacy may well be in the prevention of deaths from smoking.

He visited Britain in 1969, just when the evidence on the harm of tobacco was beginning to surface.

The story has it that someone mentioned to him – almost in passing – that smoking was harmful. In true style, he returned to Singapore and, well before any similar measure in the West, passed the world’s first serious piece of tobacco control legislation in 1970, banning smoking in buses, cinemas, theatres and other specified buildings.

This was shortly followed by a second law in 1971 banning tobacco advertising. This was the birth of utilising tobacco control laws to reduce the then- emerging epidemic of smoking deaths.

These Singapore laws were also landmarks in understanding the role of law in the promotion of public health, and that the tobacco war would never be won in the corridors of hospitals and clinics, but in the corridors of power.

Political will is still the single most important ingredient in reducing what is now a pandemic of tobacco deaths – and needed more today than ever.

Dr Judith Mackay, director, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control

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