Singapore's Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said on Tuesday that the Minimum Legal Age (MLA) for the purchase, use, possession, sale and supply of tobacco products will be increased from 18 to 21 with the amendment to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Bill.
The minimum legal age will be progressively raised over a period of three years to minimize the impact on smokers currently between the ages of 18 and 21. "We plan to raise the MLA to 19 on 1st January 2019, 20 on 1st January 2020 and finally to 21 on 1st January 2021," Amrin told Channel NewsAsia. "Quitting is a journey and it will take time for smokers to successfully quit. The phased implementation recognises this."
Earlier he had said that about 23 per cent, or about one in 4, Singaporean men still have smoking habits. According to reports, this figure is quite higher than in Australia (14.5 per cent) and the US (15.6 per cent). Amrin said that six Singaporeans die every day prematurely from smoking-related diseases.
According to Amrin, the minimum legal age was being raised for two main reasons. The first one is that adolescent brains are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction, while the second one is that Singapore data showed that the authorities should be creating more awareness to discourage youngsters from smoking.
"The younger someone tries smoking, the higher the probability of him becoming a regular smoker," Amrin said. "Smokers who start earlier also find it harder to quit smoking later in life."
He further added that nearly 95 per cent of smokers had their first puff before they turned 21 in Singapore. "Forty five per cent of smokers became regular smokers between their 18th and 21st birthdays ... Among youths below 18, two-thirds of smokers get their tobacco from friends and schoolmates," Amrin noted.
"Raising the MLA to 21 will mean that retailers cannot sell tobacco to youths between their 18th and 21st birthdays, thereby denying such youths and those in their social circles easy access to tobacco."
"We know that social and peer pressure strongly influence youths to start smoking. By raising the MLA, we are further denormalising smoking, particularly for those below 21," he added. "This will further reduce opportunities for youths to be tempted to take up smoking before they reach the age of 21."