An engaging debate on the possible use of e-cigarettes in Singapore has been raging in both the print and online media for the past few months.
While many academics and the Government have weighed in with their views, there is a deafening silence from the group which is directly affected by the policy ban on e-cigarettes. This crucial debate is taking place without the voice of the smoker being heard. To fill this gap, I recently spoke to a few individuals who are either smokers, ex-smokers or affected by smokers in one way or another.
I was impressed with Jerry’s (not his real name) story. A self-proclaimed hardcore smoker, he gave up smoking totally and has not looked back for the past six months. His is a story of one who took the road less travelled and quit cold turkey. Complete abstinence from nicotine is the Holy Grail many smokers seek but seldom achieve. For Jerry, his emancipation from a life addicted to cigarettes came when he woke up one morning and decided not to buy his next packet of cigarettes. Overnight, he had quit smoking.
Then there is Anand (not his real name); a colourful character who smokes occasionally and treats the cigarette like a long-lost friend who provides good companionship. Anand’s partner is also a smoker but surprisingly, Anand is not affected whenever his partner lights up. Instead, Anand is able to abstain from cigarettes for months on end and seems to have brought nicotine addiction to a whole new dimension. Seldom do we hear of smokers who can control their habit as well as Anand.
Another important voice was Devi’s (not her real name). The wife of a smoker, she has endured passive smoking for years. Her grouses were similar to any passive smoker who recoils at the smell of second-hand smoke. While she fights her battle with passive smoking, she has silently resigned herself to the eventuality that her partner may never give up smoking anytime in the near future.
My Personal Battle
Lastly, I shared with the group my private battles with nicotine addiction. A smoker for more than two decades of my life, I have tried but failed to quit smoking many times in the past. Today, I am still battling this addiction and while it has been an arduous journey, I have not lost the faith that one day I will no longer be enslaved to this habit.
Hearing the views of this motley group of friends, it was obvious that the issue of smoking has many shades of grey. There are various kinds of smokers out there amongst the 600, 000 odd who are still enslaved to this menace in Singapore. There are many who probably treat this habit as a necessary vice that facilitates social engagements. On the other end of the spectrum, there are hardcore chain-smokers who have pledged their health on the line in prolonging this malignant habit.
A common theme that kept cropping up during our discussion was the possibility of e-cigarettes being used as quitting-aids to help a smoker wean himself off the habit. While the science behind e-cigarettes is not conclusive, substantial evidence through reputable studies conducted by organizations such as Public Health England, have concluded that e-cigarettes are almost 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.
Everyone who participated in the discussion agreed that the use of e-cigarettes should be reviewed. All agreed unanimously that smokers genuine about quitting their habit should be given the choice to use e-cigarettes in a regulated environment as a safer interim measure.
A glaring fact which has been obliterated in the morass of ideological arguments is the fact that the smoking rate in Singapore has reached a plateau of 13% and this rate has not decreased for the past 5 years. In the meantime, smokers continue subjecting themselves to a debilitating habit that can cause myriad fatal illnesses.
To tackle the onerous task of reducing the smoking rate, policy-makers have to start thinking out of the box to stamp the rising tide of a new generation of smokers as well as current smokers who sadly succumb to a host of smoking-related diseases.
The easier way of getting round this debate is to take the high moral ground and treat smokers as outcasts of mainstream society. Current measures have already curbed the freedom of smokers to light up in many public and common spaces. Another often-repeated method is to impose heavy taxes on nicotine products that merely hurt the pockets of smokers but does little to tackle their addictions.
Or perhaps, should we just ban cigarettes altogether and spare smokers the agony of the battle of quitting smoking?