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Education, enforcement key in fight against underage smoking: HPB

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) says youth being better informed about the ills of tobacco use and stringent enforcement could be some of the reasons why fewer minors have been caught for smoking offences in the last three years.

SINGAPORE: The Health Promotion Board (HPB) says youth being better informed about the ills of tobacco use and stringent enforcement could be some of the reasons why fewer minors have been caught for smoking offences in the last three years.

Nonetheless, HPB is still continuing its efforts to target underage youth, specifically by preventing the initiation of tobacco use.

A minor getting caught for smoking or buying tobacco products can be fined up to S$300.

However, first-time offenders have the option to waive this fine if they complete the Health Promotion Board's online smoking cessation module.

This is part of the HPB's targeted approach in tackling youth smokers, with about 95 per cent of the youth offenders completing the module.

In 2011, 5,968 minors were caught for smoking offences. But the number has dropped in the past two years, with 5,759 minors caught in 2012 and 5,311 last year.

However, the Health Promotion Board is still targeting this group because it says the younger a person starts smoking, the higher the chance for the smoker to suffer from smoking-related diseases earlier in life.

One strategy the National Cancer Centre Singapore is advocating is banning the sale of tobacco to those born after the year 2000 with its Tobacco-Free Generation initiative.

"If you don't allow them to purchase tobacco when they reach 18, what they then have to do is to depend on others who would be prepared to buy the cigarettes for them or provide them with their cigarettes,” said Professor Soo Khee Chee, director of the National Cancer Centre Singapore.

“I cannot imagine a secondary black market developing because of that. It's not so easy."

Other than the HPB incorporating anti-tobacco messages into school curricula, smoking cessation interventions are also made available in Family Service Centres (FSCs) and Youth Organisations (YOs).

But youth counsellor Mohamad Farid Jaafar said enforcement strategies will not work to curb smoking among youth.

Over the past six years, he has counselled some 200 underage smokers, with his youngest cases being in primary school.

"What we have learnt about youths is that they are very prone to risk-taking behaviour. Just because there is legal enforcement, it doesn't mean it will scare them away from smoking,” said Mr Farid, who is the head of Youth Infinity at the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre.

“I think that a better way to work with these youths is actually through group work and individual follow-ups. Especially with youth, we see a better motivation for them to quit if we work on a one-to-one basis."

Mr Farid added that programmes in schools should not just address the health risks of smoking, but also talk about social issues like peer pressure. 

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