Singapore government will not make smoking rooms compulsory in public buildings

Smoke rises from a burning cigarette as a woman smokes on the street in Bordeaux
Picture for representation Reuters

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said in Parliament on Tuesday that the government does not plan to make smoking rooms compulsory in public places like sports complexes, office buildings and shopping malls in Singapore.

"With smoking already disallowed in most buildings with public access, the Government has no plans to mandate the provision of smoking rooms in such premises," she told Channel NewsAsia.

Chong Kee Hiong, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, had asked Dr. Khor if the Government would consider building smoking rooms in public buildings to contain secondhand smoke.

In response to the question, Dr. Khor explained that a smoking room would reduce exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. However, it will not eliminate the exposure completely. "It could seep into other parts of the building and pose health risks to persons in enclosed spaces," she noted.

Dr. Khor said that smoking rooms have been made available in certain public places like Changi Airport, pubs and discotheques under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act. She said: the need for such smoking rooms should be determined by premise managers as they have a "legal duty" to prohibit smoking within their premises.

"This is provided that the smoking room is independently ventilated and not required to be used by any person in the course of his work," Dr. Khor said.

According to Dr. Khor, premise owners can designate smoking areas more than 5 m from the entrance and exit of a public building.

This will be piloted at Orchard Road from July as the place has high footfall. It has been gazetted as a smoke-free zone where smoking will be banned in public areas, except at a number of designated smoking areas (DSA). "This means that smokers will not be able to light up while walking within the zone," she said.

However, when MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah asked whether DSAs could be implemented in housing estates, Dr. Khor said she would look into it.

"We need to study the results of this DSA pilot to determine how effective it is in reducing smoking in other public areas, getting smokers to be considerate to smoke only in the DSA, as well as the location design of the DSAs," she said.

Meanwhile, the government would also explore the feasibility of designating more smoke-free zones to achieve its long-term goal of prohibiting smoking in all public places. Dr. Khor said that smoking within a residence is beyond the jurisdiction of the Government.

"We don't have a smoking prohibition within homes, so our advice will be for the affected resident to have a discussion with the neighbour to try and resolve this amicably," she added. "If not get assistance from a community mediation centre."

The minister also stressed on curbing inconsiderate smoking behavior and said that enforcement is not the single solution. "We need to urge smokers to be socially responsible and considerate when smoking so as not to cause disamenities to others," Dr. Khor added. "Family and friends of smokers as well as the public in general could help to reinforce the right social norms through nudges and reminders in order to address such issues."

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will work with Town Councils and grassroots organisations to educate smokers to be more considerate. "If residents actually have information or see acts of errant smokers smoking in prohibited areas, they could provide info to NEA, and NEA will conduct investigations," Dr. Khor added.

This article was first published on February 6, 2018