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Views sought to raise minimum smoking age to 21

SINGAPORE – To delay smoking initiation among youths, the Health Promotion Board (HPB), together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Sciences Authority (HSA), is seeking the public’s views on whether it should prevent people from buying tobacco until they are 21 years old.

If the measure is passed, this will raise the minimum legal age for the purchase, possession and use of tobacco in Singapore from 18 to 21.

The HPB first said last May that it was studying raising the legal age for smoking. It followed an earlier proposal by non-profit organisation Sata CommHealth, which said increasing it to 21 would deter young men from picking up smoking during National Service.

This is part of the strategies the Board is considering to achieve its aim of reducing Singapore’s smoking prevalence rate to 12 per cent by 2020.

The nation’s smoking rate has been steadily decreasing, from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 per cent in 2013. Singapore has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, HPB said today (Dec 29), citing a report by World Health Organisation (WHO).

As a rationale for raising the minimum legal age for purchase of tobacco, the HPB quoted a 2008 WHO report on how persons who do not start smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to ever begin. HPB added that other studies have shown that young persons who start smoking early are likely to continue smoking into adulthood.

Other tobacco control measures it is looking to implement include reducing the appeal of tobacco products through standardised packaging without any promotional information like trademarks, logos, colour schemes and imagery.

The HPB also recommends increasing the size of graphic health warnings to occupy more than 50 per cent of the tobacco packaging and replacing images on such warnings every two to three years to increase its effectiveness.

The HPB would also like to seek views on the restriction of the sale of tobacco products that have a flavour. Flavours can include menthol as well as fruit and candy flavours.

The public consultation will be held for a period of 12 weeks from today to March 29 next year.

Singapore currently adopts a multi-pronged approach to drive down its smoking prevalence, HPB said.

This includes a wide range of strategies such as legislation, which includes restrictions on tobacco advertising and smoking prohibitions in public places, public education, the provision of smoking cessation services and taxation.

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