The 2018 ban on e-cigarettes was solely based on public health concerns, stating that potential loss in tobacco tax revenue did not influence the government’s decision.
This was said by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Mr Lawrence Wong in response to the query by Associate Professor Jamus Jerome Lim , the Workers’ Party for Seng Kang GRC, on whether the potential loss in tobacco tax revenue influenced the Government’s decision to ban e-cigarettes, and about the practical limitations of introducing a nicotine tax on e-cigarette products, should they be legalized.
In a written response, Mr Wong stated, “The Government’s 2018 decision to ban e-cigarettes was primarily driven by public health considerations, aiming to protect the population from the harms associated with these products. The potential loss in tobacco tax revenue due to reduced tobacco product consumption did not influence this decision.”
He further added, “Legalizing and taxing e-cigarettes would pose challenges similar to those currently faced with cigarettes and other tobacco products. Nevertheless, the Government has no intention of altering the current stance, prioritizing the health of our citizens and preventing harm from e-cigarettes, particularly to young Singaporeans.”
E-cigarettes, often referred to as vapes, have been banned in Singapore since 1 February 2018. The ban encompasses the purchase, possession, and use of emerging and imitation tobacco products, including e-vaporisers, in addition to earlier prohibitions on their importation, sale, and distribution.
The penalty for purchasing and using e-vaporizers includes a maximum fine of S$2,000. Those caught importing or selling vape products face fines of up to S$10,000 and may also be imprisoned for up to six months for a first offence.
Even as the ban on vaping has been imposed since 2018, many in Singapore still use e-cigarettes.
In late December last year, a joint operation by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) at Changi Airport, over four days, resulted in 177 individuals being found in possession of e-vaporisers.
Of these, 61 faced fines, while others avoided penalties by declaring and disposing of their items, as announced jointly by the Ministry of Health (MOH), HSA, and ICA on Thursday (4 Jan). The operation, conducted on 20, 23, 27, and 30 December, aimed to deter attempts to bring e-vaporisers into the country during peak travel times.
The persistent use of e-cigarettes, despite the ban, has prompted several Members of Parliament to raise questions in Parliament.
It has also led to initiatives like the one by the MacPherson Youth Network, which encourages youths to relinquish their vape devices. Authorities are waiving the usual penalties for those who surrender their devices through the program.
Singapore justifies the vaping ban due to its potential ‘gateway effect’, arguing that youths who use e-cigarettes are more likely to become regular tobacco smokers, with many transitioning to cigarette smoking or becoming dual users.
Public Health England, in its 2015 report, stated that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, at least 95% less so (meaning smoking is at least 20 times more harmful than vaping).
This assessment was reaffirmed by the UK’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities in their 2022 report, maintaining the “at least 95% less harmful” estimate over short to medium-term periods.
The report also noted that evidence from Stop Smoking Services and the Cochrane Living Review for Smoking Cessation shows vaping to be effective in aiding smoking cessation.
These findings, coupled with the significantly lower health risks associated with vaping compared to smoking, suggest that smokers should be encouraged to use vaping products (or medicinally licensed products) to quit smoking or as alternative nicotine delivery methods to reduce health harms.
Despite these findings, while vaping remains illegal in Singapore, conventional cigarettes, known to cause cancer in both smokers and second-hand smokers, continue to be legal.
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