Bangkok, 9 November 2022 – Singapore successfully reduced its adult smoking rate to 10.1% in 2020 through multi-pronged tobacco control measures, including a ban on electronic smoking devices (ESD), such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Despite the increasing prevalence of ESD use in some ASEAN countries, Singapore was quick to arrest the rise of ESDs in the country, which are classified and banned as imitation tobacco products.
Singapore’s Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act defines imitation tobacco products as any toy, confectionary or food product, device, or article that resembles or is designed to resemble a tobacco product; capable of being smoked; may be used in a way that mimics the act of smoking; or packed in a way that resembles or is designed to resemble packaging that is associated with tobacco products.
The World Health Organization warns of the dangers of using ESDs. The aerosol emitted from these devices contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that increases the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and reproductive disorders. This aerosol also contains carcinogens and other toxic substances, many of which are also present in cigarette smoke.
Public health advocates worry that the tobacco industry targets the youth in its deceptive marketing of ESDs. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) reveals a high prevalence of adolescent e-cigarette use in ASEAN countries, particularly in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Industry marketing tactics to lure the youth into using ESDs include using sleek and portable ESD designs, thousands of flavors (e.g. fruity and candy variants), and aggressive promotion in social media. The industry also promotes ESDs as “less harmful”, lobbying governments to tax and regulate these less strictly than other tobacco products.
“Learning from history’s cigarette catastrophe, Singapore recognized the dangers of ESDs and acted quickly to protect its citizens from this new threat. Following the precautionary principle and acknowledging the known and unknown harmful effects of ESDS, the government banned these products to prevent them from becoming entrenched. Their commitment to public health should be a model for countries aspiring to implement a comprehensive tobacco control strategy and protecting the health and well-being of their citizens,” noted Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, which today published a case study of Singapore’s successful enforcement of its ESD ban.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MoH) effectively enforces the ESD ban through a multi-pronged approach in cooperation with relevant government agencies and other stakeholders, as well as awareness raising on the harmful effects of ESDs and misinformation that they are smoking cessation devices. The MoH works closely with the Ministry of Education and higher learning institutes to educate the youth on the dangers of e-cigarettes; students caught using or possessing ESDs in schools are given disciplinary sanctions and required to attend cessation programs.
To counter online sales, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) conducts surveillance and strictly enforces sanctions against parties caught buying or selling ESDs online. HSA coordinates with e-commerce platforms including Facebook, Shopee, Lazada, Carousell and others to take down advertisements and posting of ESDs for sale. In 2021, HSA took down 4,210 illegal online postings of sale of ESDs. Further, illegal importation of ESDs is strictly monitored at Singapore’s borders.
Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and over 40 other countries have also banned ESDs. Singapore’s experience shows that a robust policy supported with strict and effective enforcement is an effective strategy to protect the public from the harms of ESDs.
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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