Increased smoking rates among 18 to 29 year olds prompt new measures
FOUR in five Singapore smokers pick up the habit before they turn 21, a tendency that has prompted the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to intensify its anti-smoking efforts among tertiary students. About 16 per cent of youth aged 18 to 29 smoke regularly, according to the HPB’s latest figures based on a 2010 survey. The new rate is an increase from 12 per cent in 2004 and also exceeds the national average of 14 per cent. To help students stub out the habit, the HPB is rolling out several initiatives, initially at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and, by 2015, polytechnics and universities, said its chief executive Ang Hak Seng yesterday at ITE College West, to mark World No-Tobacco Day. He hopes the initiatives will reduce the smoking rate among youth by 2 per cent in three years’ time.
One new move is the setting up of an office with a HPB nurse on duty at the three ITE campuses. These student health advisers will counsel students on good health in general and the risks of smoking in particular. Other new measures include a fund for students’ anti-smoking projects aimed at youth, a co-curricular activity that involves setting up a club to discourage smoking, and a partnership between the HPB and student councils. In this alliance, advocates from the HPB’s youth group will advise student leaders on ways to carry out anti-smoking efforts in their schools. The latest moves build on the HPB’s existing programmes for tertiary students; these include anti-smoking workshops and activities on nutrition. Explaining the new effort, Mr Ang said: “We want to ‘de-normalise’ smoking in schools like ITEs – that it is not a socially acceptable behaviour.”
HPB studies have shown that many youngsters ignore antismoking messages if these come from figures of authority. Hence, its decision to focus on using fellow youth and students to spread the message, by funding their anti-smoking projects. Mr Ang said the HPB has received seven such proposals from ITE students. Each project will receive up to $1,000. One proposal involves visiting shops that sell cigarettes to inform the shopkeepers about the hazards of selling cigarettes to minors and ITE students. Second-year ITE student Jasper Tan, 18, said he has helped up to 10 friends cut down or quit smoking since last year – just by talking to them about its dangers. He recalled a friend telling him about his struggle to keep up with his peers during cycling. “I suggested that he cut down on smoking to improve his performance, and it worked.”
Former smoker Ahmad Nurudin, 23, pointed out that those who want to quit can do so on their own, even without any help. The ITE student, who picked up the habit seven years ago, was motivated to quit in January after learning that he has a heart problem. Similarly, eight tertiary students interviewed felt the road to success for the new programmes lies in convincing youth that there are practical benefits in not smoking. “One way is perhaps to make them see how much they can save or do better in sports by stubbing it out,” said 21-year-old Sanny Chen, a first-year student at ITE West. As part of World No-Tobacco Day, some 202 outlets from major supermarket chains, such as Fair- Price, Giant, Cold Storage and Sheng Siong, did not sell tobacco products yesterday.