Legal age for smoking to be gradually raised from 18 to 21

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The minimum age will go up to 19 on Jan 1, 2019, 20 on Jan 1, 2020 and 21 and Jan 1, 2021.

Picture of a man smoking. (Photo: AFP/Eric Feferberg)

SINGAPORE: The Minimum Legal Age (MLA) for the purchase, use, possession, sale and supply of tobacco products will be increased from 18 to 21, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin on Tuesday (Nov 7).

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 minimise 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,” said Mr Amrin. “Quitting is a journey and it will take time for smokers to successfully quit. The phased implementation recognises this.”

Earlier he noted that 23 per cent, or about one in 4, Singaporean men still smoke – a figure higher than in Australia (14.5 per cent) and the US (15.6 per cent). Every day, six Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases, said Mr Amrin.

He explained that the minimum legal age was being raised for two main reasons – adolescent brains being especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction, and Singaporean data showing that more needs to be done to discourage smoking among the young.

“The younger someone tries smoking, the higher the probability of him becoming a regular smoker,” said Mr Amrin. “Smokers who start earlier also find it harder to quit smoking later in life.”

He added that in Singapore, close to 95 per cent of smokers had their first puff before they turned 21.

“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,” Mr Amrin pointed out.

“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 said.

“This will further reduce opportunities for youths to be tempted to take up smoking before they reach the age of 21.”

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