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Increase in Minimum Legal Age for smoking

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Ms Raeesah Khan
MP for Sengkang GRC

Question No. 504

To ask the Minister for Health (a) whether a study has been conducted on the effectiveness of gradually increasing the minimum legal age for smoking in reducing the prevalence of youth smoking and, if not, whether the Ministry will consider conducting one; and (b) how has the Ministry supported youths, unable to smoke legally following the raising of the minimum legal age for smoking on 1 January 2021, to quit smoking.

Written Answer

Increasing the Minimum Legal Age (MLA) progressively from 19 years old in 2019 to 21 years on 1 Jan 2021, has reduced opportunities for our youth to take up smoking.  This is part of a set of measures we have introduced to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use.

Based on the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) 2020, smoking prevalence among our youth aged 18-29 years was 8.8%, a decrease compared to 9.8% in 20171.  As the MLA was just raised to 21 years less than two months ago, it is still too early to assess the impact of the latest adjustment. MOH will continue to monitor smoking prevalence rates in Singapore and introduce new measures or adjust existing ones as needed. 

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has a range of programmes to educate youths and raise the awareness of the benefits of leading a tobacco-free lifestyle. HPB works closely with the Ministry of Education and Institutes of Higher Learning to incorporate anti-tobacco messages into the curriculum.  Our focus is on counselling and education to help under-aged smokers quit smoking while enhancing enforcement actions for retailers or persons caught giving or furnishing tobacco to under-aged smokers. HPB’s smoking cessation programmes for youth smokers adopt a strengths-based approach to build confidence for behaviour change.  It also imparts them with knowledge and skills to kick the habit, and positive coping strategies to better deal with stress, anger, frustration or boredom.

In addition, there are Student Health Advisors (SHAs) in more than 60 educational institutions who provide tailored counselling to youth smokers on quitting smoking.  These counselling sessions help them to understand the harms of smoking and equip them with strategies to cope with withdrawal symptoms and quit the habit.  Last year, close to 2,200 youth received smoking cessation counselling from SHAs, and amongst these, more than 58% managed to reduce smoking or quit the habit one month post-counselling.  Counselling support is also provided by certified Quit Consultants via HPB’s QuitLine (Tel: 1800 438 2000) services.

Beyond the government’s tobacco control measures, tackling smoking also requires a whole of community effort.  Positive role modelling and support from family members and peers are also important in encouraging our youth to lead a tobacco-free and healthy lifestyle for the longer term.

[1] MLA for purchase, use, possession, sale and supply of tobacco products was progressively raised to 19 years old on 1 January 2019, to 20 years on 1 January 2020 and to 21 years old on 1 January 2021. 

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