Photos showing electrical devices installed at HDB blocks have been going viral on social media, causing alarm among some Singaporeans who believe that the devices are smoke detectors installed by the Government to detect unlawful smoking.
The photos show an electrical device installed at what looks to be the common corridor of a HDB block. A rectangular metal box can be seen with the National Environment Agency (NEA) logo and the words “GOVERNMENT PROPERTY DO NOT TAMPER!” and “Caution! Electrical Power” emblazoned on it.
The metal box appears to be connected to a sensor that is strapped to the window ledge, pointing straight at the units of another block directly opposite the block where the electrical device is situated.
Concerns that the electrical device may be an elaborate smoke sensor that might detect unlawful smoking have been rife on social media, especially since the photos began circulating weeks after ruling party MPs raised the issue of banning smoking in one’s own flat.
Presently, smoking inside one’s HDB apartment is allowed while smoking remains strictly prohibited in common corridors, stairwells, staircase landings and void decks, under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, which is administered by the NEA. Since June 2016, it has become unlawful to smoke in public parks within residential estates, as well.
In the past few years, the Government has been ramping up anti-smoking efforts. To this end, Parliament passed a new Bill earlier this month to amend the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, empowering NEA officers to enter smoking-prohibited places even if they are private premises in order to investigate smoking-related offences.
Officers currently have to obtain permission to enter private premises but the new bill will allow them to enter any smoking-prohibited place to enforce relevant anti-smoking laws
Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament: “NEA can invoke the power of entry at all reasonable times, such as the operating hours of the place, or at any time if there is reasonable belief that an offence under the Act has been committed there.”
Under the amendment, NEA officers are also empowered to seize audio, visual and physical evidence from smoking-prohibited premises in order to prosecute suspected breaches.
Concerns that enhanced anti-smoking efforts would lead to homes no longer being private spaces arose when some MPs asked whether more could be done to prohibit smoking within homes.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng pointed out that children of smokers are more susceptible to picking up the habit, while Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan said that a mother in her constituency had to keep her windows closed to protect her children from inhaling second-hand smoke from a neighbour who smokes.
Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam acknowledged that “there was little that could be done” other than advising neighbours who smoke to stop smoking at their windows, while Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu, a medical doctor, raised the health risks of inhaling second-hand smoke.
Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah also highlighted that conflicts between neighbours over smoking are “increasingly on the rise,” as she registered her disappointment with the fact that “residential homes remain out of the authorities’ regulation when it comes to smoking.”
Khor acknowledged that indiscriminate smoking is distressing and urged smokers to be considerate to their neighbours, but noted: “Not everyone will support the view that the Government should intrude into one’s private space when it comes to smoking.”
Despite Dr Khor’s clarification, netizens remain worried about whether they can continue smoking within their homes in peace – especially with photos appearing to show potential smoke detectors in public housing estates going viral online and causing alarm.
The Independent has reached out to NEA over whether the electrical devices are really smoke sensors and why such devices are installed in a HDB block. We will update this article when we receive a response.