SINGAPORE: The push to make Orchard Road a smoke-free zone has drawn a mixed reaction, with the business organisation that covers the area saying it will improve the visitor experience, but some smokers who work there expressed frustration about the inconvenience they will face.
Come January next year, smokers who want to light up along Orchard Road will have to look for one of about 40 “designated smoking areas” scattered in the stretch between Tanglin Mall and Plaza Singapura.
Orchard Road Business Association's (ORBA) executive director Steven Goh said the overall visitor experience will be improved after the implementation of the no-smoking zone.
"Non-smokers will welcome the Orchard Road pedestrian thoroughfare free of cigarette smoke while smokers have an extensive choice of designated smoking areas located 100 to 200 metres apart," said Mr Goh.
However, some people who work in the area that Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they were unhappy, suggesting that it would be more challenging for them to get their nicotine fix once the ban is introduced and they have to search out one of the smoking zones.
Daniel F, 18, who works in Wisma Atria Shopping Mall, said that the ban is unrealistic in that it would be hard to police and is “really ridiculous”.
“Not all smokers on Orchard Road are from Singapore … I think it will be such a turn-off for a tourist to get fined out of nowhere for smoking here,” Mr Daniel said.
He was one of many smokers seen on the sides of the wide pedestrian pavement that runs through Orchard Road when Channel NewsAsia visited on Friday.
Another smoker who gave her name as Azirah, 23, said the smoking corners may not do much to control the flow of the smoke onto the main pedestrian road.
“The smoke that comes from cigarettes is going to go everywhere. Before the implementation of the designated smoking areas, we are already smoking at the side trying to not affect any passers-by. We are trying to be considerate, so I don’t think they should do this,” she added.
Still, some smokers were broadly supportive of the move. Clinic worker Pauline Lee, 55, said she agrees with the ban and said that it will be easy for her as she is not a heavy smoker.
“For me it’s okay, I can choose to not smoke. We have to obey the rules … we will have to compromise and be thoughtful of those who don’t smoke and are inhaling second-hand smoke,” Ms Lee said.
James Teo, 39, said even though the designated smoking spots are not far apart, they may be hard to get to when it rains. Walking to the smoking area will also take time out of his lunch break, he said.
“My lunch break is only 30 minutes. If I want to smoke during my lunch break, the walk to and fro and smoking will probably take 15 minutes. What if it rains? That’s ridiculous. It might make me cut down on smoking but I don’t think I will quit,” Mr Teo said.
National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a press release on Wednesday that having designated smoking areas will keep the main Orchard Road pedestrian thoroughfare free of cigarette smoke.
Some of the designated smoking areas are situated at places like Far East Plaza, Ngee Ann City and Wheelock Place. They should not be more than 10 to 12 meters in size and not sited directly next to the main thoroughfare, NEA added.
Dr Clive Tan, a fellow at the Academy of Medicine Singapore’s College of Public Health and Occupational Physicians, said that there are benefits of such a move for smokers and non-smokers.
For smokers, having to go to a smoking area may help to delay the action of smoking and this could help them quit, said Dr Tan.
“It could help them lose the urge to smoke especially if it’s raining or a particularly hot day. In their mind, they will trade-off and say, ‘Do I really need this cigarette now? Maybe not’,” Dr Tan added.
Having designated smoking areas will also greatly benefit non-smokers because they now know where to avoid second-hand smoke, Dr Tan said.
“It’s like everybody knows where the smoking points are so they can knowingly avoid these areas. Right now, the smokers could be anywhere and it’s almost impossible to avoid (second-hand smoke),” he added.
The curb on smoking on Singapore's main shopping belt started in 2015 with preparations underway to engage stakeholders to transit into smoke-free zone by July 2018. The implementation was delayed for another six months to provide more time following feedback from business owners.
This comes after a series of moves to clampdown on smoking in public areas as part of the Government's long-term goal to prohibit smoking in public areas apart from designated smoking areas.