The legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products in Singapore will be raised from 18 to 21, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 9).
"We want to protect our young from the harms of tobacco, and lay the foundation for good health," she said.
The restrictions, which will be phased in over the next few years, will cover the retail and social supply to minors; and the purchase, use and possession of tobacco products by minors, the Ministry of Health said.
Dr Khor said that in Singapore, 45 per cent of smokers become regular ones between the ages of 18 and 21. Research has also shown that adolescent brains have a heightened sensitivity to the effects of nicotine, with a World Health Organization (WHO) report stating that people who do not start smoking before the age of 21 "are unlikely to ever begin", she added.
She also noted the Health Promotion Board conducted public consultation on further tobacco control measures between December 2015 and March 2016, and feedback showed "considerable support" for raising the minimum legal age for smoking in Singapore.
As such, to further de-normalise tobacco use and reduce the number of youths from picking up the habit, the ministry will propose legislative changes to Parliament within a year to raise the minimum legal age to sell tobacco products to minors from the ages of 18 to 21, Dr Khor said.
Dr Khor also gave an update on standardising tobacco packaging, saying the ministry had studied closely the experience of Australia, France and the United Kingdom as countries that had implemented this.
"(We) see significant value in moving in this direction, so as to reduce the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to youths, and raise the visibility and effectiveness of health warnings," she said.
"We will conduct a further public consultation on standardised packaging this year to seek additional and more detailed views on possible standardised packaging measures," Dr Khor added.
Responding to the decision, the Tobacco Association of Singapore highlighted various concerns on how this would be implemented by licensed tobacco retailers "in a practical manner" and whether the regulation would be enforced for non-Singaporean visitors.
It also raised the issue of whether retailers facing manpower issues would face restrictions in hiring workers between the ages of 18 and 20 as a result.
The association added that it welcomed the opportunity to provide further input in the second round of public consultation on the proposal for standardised packaging.