Channel NewsAsia

HPB mulls review of age limit for cigarette sales

Health Promotion Board says it is considering several measures to reduce number of smokers in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is considering reviewing the minimum age at which people are allowed to buy cigarettes.

HPB said that this is among a series of measures it is studying to reduce the number of smokers in Singapore, where the current legal age to buy cigarettes is 18. Singapore is not the only place where anti-smoking measures are in the pipeline. Last Sunday, New York raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes to 21. 

"There are other countries that have a higher limit, about 19, 20. But that does not mean smoking in those countries is any lower. So we are studying what's happening in New York, finding out if there is any way we can replicate the measures in Singapore as well.

"But all these have to be studied well before we can go out there and say this is something we want to do," said Vasuki Utravathy of the HPB.

"Considerations would include if this move actually reduces initiation, for those who are of legal age. Other than that, it could also be more of enforcement as well," Utravathy added.

The HPB is also prepared to answer some of the tougher questions that go along with such a change.

"You know there are so many other ages where you can do other things. Males serve national service at 18 years old, and so you may get people asking questions: 'Why can't I smoke at 18 if I am allowed to carry a gun at 18?' These are the kind of things we have to think about."

HPB says plain packaging is also one of the measures it is studying with the aim of reducing the number of smokers in the country.

A new set of health warning labels could be introduced in the next two to three years.

Still, HPB representatives noted that the agency has seen an increase in the success of its anti-smoking campaign, "I Quit".

In 2013, 476 people who signed up for services to stop smoking kicked the habit in the next six months. This is compared to about 150 in 2011. 

More are also dialling its anti-smoking hotline (Quitline: 1800-438-2000), with 14,540 callers in 2013, more than double the 5,917 callers in 2012.

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