Not possible to enforce and stop smoking at home windows: Amy Khor

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A man smokes at the window of his residential unit in Singapore. (PHOTO: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
A man smokes at the window of his residential unit in Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — It is not possible to prohibit smoking at windows and balconies as there isn’t an appropriate law in place and enforcement would be very challenging, said Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor on Monday (13 September).

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Khor was responding to an adjournment motion filed by Nee Soon Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng on using deterrence to tackle secondhand smoke in homes. Ng was supported in his motion by Sembawang MP Poh Li San.

Ng said that secondhand smoke is a deadly hazard and a number of residents had complained to him about their health problems due to smoke originating from neighbouring units.

While Ng acknowledged that it is impossible to enforce a ban on smoking at homes, he called for the government to make clear that smoking at windows and balconies is illegal. He said that a law against secondhand smoke originating from residences already exists, specifically Sections 43 and 44 of the Environmental Public Health Act.

Section 43 states that “The Director-General may take such steps as he may consider necessary to remove or abate all nuisances of a public nature and may, if he considers that the circumstances so warrant, proceed at law against any person committing any such nuisance”, while a part in Section 44 refers to “the issue of any fumes, vapours, gases, heat, radiation or smells in any premises which is a nuisance or injurious or dangerous to health".

Ng argued that secondhand smoke is among the nuisances covered under Section 44.

In response, Dr Khor explained that the parts of the Act cited by Ng were enacted in the context of 1960s Singapore to curb public nuisances from specific industrial activities and is not meant to deal with smoking prohibition. They also relate to public nuisances that affect the public at large and not private nuisances such as smoking at homes.

The National Environment Agency has assessed is that it is not achievable to deter smoking at windows and balconies with current enforcement methods and technology, Dr Khor said.

If we were to prohibit smoking at windows and balconies, we can be sure that there will be smokers who will find ways to avoid getting caught, they could smoke in balcony corners or in toilets with windows...Smoke will inevitably seep out, and can still travel to neighbouring units. So the problem remains,” Dr Khor added.

It is also not possible to prosecute people based on complaints of smoke wafting from neighbouring units.

“We have to catch the offender in the act of smoking at the balcony or window, or have witnesses come forward to testify that they witness the act. Yet complainants are often unable to accurately identify the source of the smell or smoke.”

She added that an investigation of any such case would also require extensive manpower and resources, with no guarantee of successful enforcement.

Dr Khor said that there are various solutions being explored in the community to tackle issues like secondhand smoke, such as through the “Love Our Hood” initiative by municipal services offices, and Designated Smoking Points.

“I want to assure Members that we are committed to tackling secondhand smoke from homes and our monitoring global best practices and developments in technology and legislation.”

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