Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Health (a) whether the Ministry intends to introduce a generational tobacco purchasing ban similar to that implemented by New Zealand; and (b) whether other measures are being studied to reduce rates of smoking in the general population.
The Senior Minister of State for Health (Dr Koh Poh Koon) (for the Minister for Health): Sir, smoking and second-hand smoke exposure are associated with at least 11 major medical conditions that accounted for about $180 million of healthcare cost in 2019. Our consistent policy approach has been to reduce our smoking rates and encourage smokers to quit.
We do not have comparable figures of the smoking quit rate in the past two years as requested by Dr Lim Wee Kiak. But our tobacco control measures have been successful. It has progressively reduced smoking prevalence rates from 11.8% in 2017 to 10.1% in 2020.
The most effective has been tobacco tax. Several economic studies have reached a consensus that for every 10% increase in real price, there will be about a 3% to 5% decrease in overall tobacco consumption, a 3.5% reduction in young people taking up smoking and a total of about 3% to 5% reduction of new young people taking up smoking as well. But it was last increased in 2018. So, with inflation and income increases, the tax burden gets eroded over time and we will have to continue to work with MOF to review the tobacco tax rate. [Please refer to “Clarification by Senior Minister of State for Health“, Official Report, 11 January 2022, Vol 95, Issue No 45, Corrections by Written Statement section.]
In 2020, standardised packaging and enhanced graphic health warnings were required for all tobacco products sold here in Singapore to reduce the attractiveness of cigarettes. It is, however, still too early to evaluate the effectiveness of this measure.
We also progressively raised the minimum legal age for smoking from 19 years in 2019 to 21 years in January 2021. This aims to denormalise tobacco use among youth below the age of 21, restrict their access to tobacco products in their social circles, and hence, reduce the likelihood of smoking initiation. It has contributed to a decline in smoking among younger adults aged 18 to 29 years, from 9.8% in 2017 to 8.8% in 2020.
Ministry of Health
11 January 2022