Singapore Should Endorse, Not Ban, Smokeless Nicotine Products

Singapore’s Health Minister, Khaw Boon Wan, recently made the following statement in a blog post:

These are chilling words for the anti-tobacco population. Some describe the dissolvable products as nicotine candies designed to appeal to children, making them life-long addicts. Reynolds have already found these products to be more appealing to women, besides allowing smokers to continue their habit in smoke-free locations, like offices.

That is why I am amending our current Tobacco Control Act to arm ourselves for the era of these new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes (yes, there is such a thing!).

Even the title of the current Act, Smoking (Control of Tobacco) Act has to be amended to reflect the new reality. The Bill will be introduced soon. I look forward to Singaporeans’ support for the Bill.

Whether it creates smoke or is smokeless, tobacco is highly addictive and it kills.

This statement was made in response to a new series of products being produced by Reynold’s American Inc., the makers of Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes, including strips, lozenges and dissolving wafers.

The blog post this quote is from redirects people to the Health Minister’s Facebook fan page for commenting, and the few comments left there seemed to be in favor of his initiative to ban these items from Singapore.

I’d like to highlight a perspective of this that everyone seems to be missing. Smokeless tobacco items like the ones mentioned in his post could be used as, and should be marketed as, ways to assist smokers in breaking the habit.  He didn’t go into detail, but the products he’s describing seem to be nicotine releasing items that don’t contain tobacco at all.  Often these products don’t contain the carcinogens that produce cancer as well.

The hardest part of getting over smoking is finding a new thing to do, other than putting a cigarette in your mouth. If you replace the habit of puffing a cigarette with an item that’s like a candy, you stop mentally associating the pleasurable feeling from nicotine with a smoke-producing cigarette. Eventually you can wean yourself off of the nicotine lozenges and switch to real lozenges. It helps ease the psychological burden of quitting.

As a smoker of 15 years, I can tell you that from various attempts, it’s always the psychological part of quitting that’s the hardest to resist; the association of pleasure with a smoke producing cigarette. There has to be a substitute item to break that association.  A bag of nuts isn’t going to do it, and chewing gum isn’t even legal to be purchased in Singapore.  I think by banning these items, Singapore wouldn’t be making the streets safer for anyone. It would, in fact, remove viable options for people attempting to quit.

The biggest threat from and to smokers is the smoke, whether it be first-hand or second-hand.  If that’s the case, then the government should promote the use of smokeless alternatives for the benefit of everyone.  If smokeless options, especially these items which simply release nicotine, become more popular than cigarettes, it would greatly reduce the number of cancer cases caused by cigarette smoke.

From a monetary perspective, smokeless tobacco products offer the government another avenue for collecting taxes.  The same taxes that apply to cigarettes could be applied to these new products, preventing the government from losing their revenue stream.

I’d love to have access to these types of items for my own benefit in trying to quit smoking.  I’d feel a lot better about myself if I popped a lozenge after a meal instead of lighting up and inconveniencing everyone around me, as well as ruining my lungs.  It could also help me to finally be successful in quitting entirely.  I think it’s a shame I don’t have access to them while in Singapore.

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