Mixed response to designated smoking areas in Nee Soon South, Orchard Road
SINGAPORE — As it works towards its goal of creating a smoke-free estate, Nee Soon South will become the first constituency to have all its public housing blocks within walking distance of a designated smoking point by the end of this year.
However, when TODAY visited the ward on Wednesday (March 15) afternoon, most of the smoking points — each measuring 3m by 3m with benches, cigarette bins, plastic walls, and a zinc roof - were empty. Several residents could be seen puffing away outside these areas, including just a few metres away from the smoking points. The heat and concentration of cigarette smoke deterred them from using the partially enclosed smoking points, they said.
A 60-year-old resident, who wanted only to be known as Mr Lim, said: “The smoking points are a good idea in principle, but not when it is so hot. I smoke to destress, but I’d feel more stressed smoking inside them.”
The taxi driver added that the smoking points are not always found at “convenient locations”.
There are currently 42 smoking points spread across Nee Soon South, including the six piloted in 2014 which have been upgraded. By the end of this year, some 50 smoking points — roughly one every three blocks — will dot the constituency.
Domestic helper Lilik is a regular user of the smoking points. The Indonesian, who has been employed by a family in Nee Soon for the last two years, said she uses them for “privacy” when she is smoking. “I don’t want too many people to see me smoking,” she added.
Smokers are not penalised if they light up outside the smoking points, but they are encouraged by community ambassadors to use them. Dr Lee Bee Wah, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon South, said the smoking points are also an avenue to reach out to smokers and encourage them to quit. The interiors are plastered with posters depicting the harmful effects of smoking, and raising awareness of cessation programmes.
Dr Lee said: “(The smoking points) collect plenty of cigarette butts which suggests they are well-utilised. Smokers tell me when they are in the smoking pointss, they don’t have to worry about being fined or bothering others.”
The smoking points were designed by a team which won a competition held by the town council. Mr Aaron Ong, a 24 year-old engineering student at the National University of Singapore, was part of the team. He said the smoking points were designed “according to the town council’s requirements”. “They wanted it to be sheltered but at the same time, not too comfortable a place for smokers to linger… We had thought of some ways to improve airflow such as by installing fans, and adding solar panels for better lighting, but we had to work within the budget,” he said. He added that the materials under the roofing and at the base may have to be changed to improve ventilation.
The locations of the smoking points were also “not so straightforward, as some residents didn’t want them under their block”.
Dr Jeremy Lim, who leads the health and life sciences and public sector practices of consulting firm Oliver Wyman in the Asia-Pacific, said that the design of smoking zones “should recognise the physiological urges but temper the behavioral ones such as smokers coming together to smoke and talk socially”. “Hence we should consider zones that are inconvenient to get to, exposed to the elements and small enough to be uncomfortable and isolating,” he said.
Since December last year, designated smoking points — in the form of white rectangular zones outside several malls — have also been set up along Orchard Road, as part of an initiative led by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.
The Government has also called for a tender to build two new smoking shelters outside Far East Plaza and Orchard Towers by the end of next month. Several smokers were spotted lighting up in or around the zones on Wednesday afternoon. They said the smoking zones provide “assurance” that they would not be caught for breaking the law.
Sound engineer Jay Kumar, 23, said: “They are helpful because we know for sure that these areas are legal. I usually see people abiding by them especially in the town area.”
He suggested that the zones be made larger to accommodate more smokers. On her part, Dr Lee urged the Government to provide funding for smoking points to be set up in other constituencies. The effort in Nee Soon South would cost S$500,000 in all when all the smoking points are built, and it was funded by donations, she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story wrongly stated that the Orchard Road initiative was led by the National Environment Agency and Orchard Road Business Association. It was led by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. We are sorry for the error.