It’s one of the neatest proposals I’ve come across in a long time. In April this year, Professor A J Berrick suggested a progressive ban on tobacco using the turn of the century as the cut-off year-of-birth for the sale of cigarettes.
See a short write up here on Towards Tobacco-free Singapore.
In Singapore, as in many countries, shopkeepers have to check identity cards to ensure that the customer is at least 18 years old before cigarettes can be sold. Some amount of mental calculation has to be performed between the current year and the year of birth as stated in the ID card. Mistakes can happen; more problematically, time is wasted making the mental calculation.
Berrick’s idea was that after 2017, the cut-off year would forever remain 1999. In other words, anyone born in 2000 or later will never be allowed to buy tobacco products. It is a simple cut-off for all shopkeepers to remember.
Smoking is a habit that, if not acquired by the time a person is in his early twenties, is unlikely ever to be acquired for the rest of the person’s life. Consequently, much hope has been placed on youths not getting started. However, experience has shown that success is elusive. Despite years of campaigns, as recently as 2007, some 24 percent of males and 4 percent of females were still smoking (Personal Health Practices, by Lily Chua Ai Vee, Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, Ministry of Health).
More details can be seen in this reply by the Health Ministry to a parliamentary question, 12 January 2010:
However, this still means that about 360,000 Singaporeans smoke. Our age-specific smoking prevalence exceeds 10% for all age groups, from 18 to 69, peaking at 17% for those aged 18 to 29 years. Men are 6 times more likely to smoke than women. The age-specific male smoking prevalence exceeds 20% for all age groups from 18 to 69. There is a significant racial difference. Malays’ smoking prevalence is more than double that of Chinese or Indians. Malay men aged 30 – 39 years, have the highest smoking prevalence of 49%, as compared to 19% for Chinese and 12% for Indians. Fortunately, our female smoking prevalence is low, at single digit percentage, except for young Malay ladies (14%). But more than half of women smokers are below 29 years old and their smoking rate has risen sharply from 5% in 1998 to 9% in 2007.
— Source link.
The peak age group is 18 – 29, the statement said. This would be the young adults who picked up smoking in the last ten years. The measures we’ve been taking this while — raising taxes, adding shockingly graphic photos of disease to the pack covers — aren’t producing results. The key problem is that these measures are aimed at getting people who are already smoking to quit the habit, which is very hard to do, and this explains the poor success rate.
It’s quite obvious to me that a progressive ban is the best idea we have. It stops another generation from picking up the habit without further penalising those who are already addicted; they can carry on smoking till the end of their days. But over time, the number of smokers will decline as the smoking cohort ages.
Yet, we hear no discussion about this idea, and there are no indications that the government is considering adopting it.
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Instead, changes that make no sense to the public are quietly implemented. The Straits Times reported that police posts in the six public hospitals have been done away with.
The posts were shut down in April, after being in service for close to 30 years.
When contacted, a police spokesman said they were opened in the 1980s, with officers deployed to provide a working link between the hospitals and the police.
Whenever the officers were not tied up, they also provided a point of contact for the public to lodge police reports.
The Straits Times understands that most often, these reports were lodged following accidents and criminal cases, when those involved were taken to hospital. The officers also had cases referred to them when hospital staff suspected foul play.
The posts, usually located near the hospitals’ emergency departments, also made it convenient for victims of crimes to lodge reports after they had been treated for their injuries.
— Straits Times, 15 July 2011, All 6 hospital police posts closed down, by Mavis Toh
Years ago, when I had a small accident on the road and checked myself in to a hospital, a constable attended to me to take my story as soon as I was warded. More recently, when my mother was rushed to an emergency department, I saw a constable at work obtaining details from two young men who had been brought by ambulance to the same department. From their cuts and bruises, it looked to me that they had been robbed or attacked.
I think it is important to get an incident report as quickly as possible while memory is still fresh, otherwise crucial leads may be lost. This is especially as some victims may have to be hospitalised for several days. Are they expected to make a police report only after being discharged? Are they expected to make their own way to a police station even if they’re in a plaster cast after discharge?
Or is the hospital expected to contact the police headquarters who may or may not send someone over to the ward? If so, wouldn’t the cost involved — getting an officer to travel to the hospital to take a report each time there’s a call — be no less (if not more) than that of having a manned police post?
Even more curious, whatever the reason or alternative procedure is, the police aren’t saying.
When asked why the hospital posts were shut down, the police spokesman would only say that it is because of the streamlining of work processes with the hospitals.
Or is this yet another example of making it so difficult and opaque that people will give up and not make police reports?
I’m not alone in feeling that this is a bad decision. The newspaper quoted two former police officers:
‘I am surprised that the posts are being closed down, because the officers played quite an important role,’ said Mr Ang, who was in the force for 28 years.
Mr Chan Soo Wah, another former police officer, called the hospital police posts an asset, as officers there made the initial assessment to determine whether a case needed further investigation.
‘When notified of a case by the hospital, the officer visits the patient and finds out how he got injured,’ said Mr Chan, who spent 34 years in the force. ‘This fast action is important because many a time, the patient dies the next day.’
Perhaps, our police force is desperately short of manpower that could have been deployed better elsewhere. Indeed, my recollection was that they were young and fit constables, who, one might argue, could have been more useful on the beat. But the hospital police post function can be easily performed by a semi-retired police officer, who may not be fit enough to run after robbers, but whose experience would be very useful in taking incident reports and asking the right questions of victims. Here we are trying to think of ways to keep our gradually aging population at least partially employed — why not this?
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And while we’re on the subject of police manpower, I was speaking to former head of NTUC Income Tan Kin Lian yesterday and he mentioned something that I myself had noticed.
“Have you noticed that at the airport, they have police officers check your passport three times?” he said.
It’s something that I had long thought was bordering on the ridiculous.
- As you enter the controlled area on the Departure level, your passport and boarding pass are checked.
- As a Singapore citizen, I use the automated gate that scans my passport and thumbprint.
- A metre away from the automatic scanner, I am stopped by another police officer who checks the same passport that the computer had just checked.
- Entering the holding room, putting my jacket, computer and carry-on luggage into the X-ray machine, my passport is manually checked a third time.
They are going overboard, Tan said, “just because there was one time when someone boarded a place with the wrong passport, and a minister jumped.”
These examples raise the questions: How are decisions made? What are the priorities that guide our public service?