Singapore — Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng is set to continue the battle against the effects of secondhand smoking in homes after winning the ballot to have an adjournment motion he filed on the matter raised when Parliament sits next Monday (Oct 5).
In 2018, Mr Ng was among a group of MPs who appealed to the Government to curb smoking in one’s own home when Parliament passed a Bill to amend the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act that year.
At present, smoking inside one’s HDB apartment is allowed although it remains strictly prohibited in common corridors, stairwells, staircase landings and void decks, under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act.
Calling on the Government to do more, Mr Ng declared that he was well-versed with the dangers of smoking having formerly smoked for 17 years. Asserting that secondhand smoke affects others, like children who are more susceptible to picking up smoking if they are around secondhand smoke, the MP asked:
“What are we doing to protect people from second-hand smoke in their own homes? It would seem at odds to protect people from second-hand smoke in the public areas where they spend less time and not protect them at home where they spend more time.
“Many of my residents complain about being affected by second-hand smoke when their neighbours smoke at their windows or balconies. As HDB units are close to each other, what happens next door inadvertently affects neighbours. For those who live next to, or above, chain smokers, the problem can be very acute.
“Imagine being exposed to and having to tolerate second-hand smoke from your neighbours everyday for years with the only reprieve being moving out altogether. This is the reality faced by some of my residents, which I am sure is shared by many others.”
Dr Amy Khor, who was Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, responded: “Homes are private spaces; we need to be mindful that not everyone would support the view that the Government should intrude into one’s private space on the issue of smoking.”
She added: “Moreover, if we were to prohibit smoking in one’s own home, it would inevitably entail bringing to bear the necessary investigation and enforcement powers in our homes. We must not take this lightly.
“Such an intrusive regulatory approach to tackling neighbourly issues could ultimately be even more detrimental to community harmony and ownership.”
Mr Ng remained concerned and raised the issue of air filters that could filter out the harmful effects of secondhand smoke in private homes in a subsequent parliamentary sitting that year.
More recently, this month, Mr Ng vowed to continue his fight against secondhand smoke in homes. Through questions he raised during the first sitting of the 14th Parliament, it became known that 71 cases concerning second-hand cigarette smoke were registered with the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) between January 2019 and July 2020. The Government also issues advisories to flatowners whose smoking affects their neighbours.
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said that those who are affected by second-hand cigarette smoke arising from neighbours smoking in their HDB flats can seek help from the CMC or, as a last resort, the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal.
On Sept 6, Mr Ng said in a Facebook post that he planned to take the issue further and that he had filed an adjournment motion on the matter. He wrote:
“It’s crazy that some of us are affected by secondhand smoke in our own homes. The smoke comes from our neighbours. And it’s crazy because the secondhand smoke could kill you. One person in SINGAPORE dies everyday due to secondhand smoke (based on 383 deaths in 2016).”
Sharing that he is fighting for a middle ground between respecting the rights of smokers while protecting those who do not smoke, he added: “Is the solution a ban on smoking in HDB flats? I don’t think so and we can find a middle ground. We must respect the rights of smokers but at the same time protect the health of non-smokers.”
In a subsequent Facebook post on Sept 12, he added: “More and more people are affected by secondhand smoke and we should do more to address this problem.
“During and after the circuit breaker, there was an increase in the number of disputes over cigarette smoke registered with the CMC, up from an average of two cases before, to eight cases monthly.”
On Tuesday (Sept 29), Mr Ng won the ballot to have his adjournment motion raised in Parliament. The Speaker, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, said the result left Mr Ng a happy camper — a sentiment the latter echoed in the comments section of the Speaker’s post. In a Facebook post of his own, Mr Ng wrote:
“A happy camper ? I won the ballot ? All set to speak up and fight for more protection from secondhand smoke in our homes ?”
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