'If you can't smoke here nor there, then what?': Smoker & non-smoker S'poreans on smoking in HDB flats

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Jason Fan | Tanya Ong | October 10, 2020, 03:21 PM

PERSPECTIVE: A Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) has since called for a ban on residents smoking near windows or on the balconies of their homes in Singapore to minimise the effects of second-hand smoke on neighbours.

Is this too intrusive or is this a reasonable solution?  Mothership speaks to several smokers and non-smokers to find out their views on what a possible compromise might look like.

The issue of secondhand smoke and general neighbourliness is a perennial one.

People have had less-than-ideal experiences with smoker neighbours

Several non-smokers that Mothership spoke to described their less-than-stellar experience with neighbours smoking.

Fred Tan, 24, said that he can smell the smoke from his neighbour's house in his own kitchen.

"You can only smell it if you're in the kitchen," he said. "I don’t cook so it doesn’t bother me as much, but I can imagine my mother cooking then have to tahan (put up with) the smell."

Eunice Lee, 61, also described an incident where she got very angry after a neighbour who lived upstairs threw a cigarette butt out of the window, which landed up in her room.

"What if it caught fire? We went to the town council regarding this incident, and the person got a warning," she said.

But not everyone has had such experiences in their homes.

Debbie Lum, 53, said that she can smell a bit of smoke sometimes while walking in the corridor. However, she would "just try to walk past quickly" when that happens.

GPC calling for ban on smoking near windows

The problem of secondhand smoke emanating from HDB units has been raised by Nee Soon MP Louis Ng, who told Parliament during his adjournment motion speech that he has received some feedback from residents.

A Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) has since called for a ban on residents smoking near windows or on the balconies of their homes in Singapore to minimise the effects of second-hand smoke on neighbours.

Ng, who chairs the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment, said that proposed ban will empower National Environment Agency officers to enforce what is currently an advisory for residents not to smoke near windows and on balconies.

But banning smoking at the windows is no solution either

For Lum, she said that in an ideal world, she agrees with such a regulation, given that she's not a smoker.

"I mean, I don't smoke, and I don't want the smoke to affect me, so the less people who smoke, the better."

But she acknowledges that the law is unlikely to be viable, given that enforcement would be extremely difficult.

This view is echoed by Tan, who thought the proposed ban was "a bit impractical".

"I mean, if you can't smoke here nor there, then what?" he said.

Smokers criticise intrusiveness of regulation

For some smokers Mothership spoke to, they raised concerns about the home being private space, and how such regulations would be too intrusive.

"I personally feel that people have the right to do what they want to do in their houses," 27-year-old Shawn Ho said.

Ho feels there it "doesn't seem reasonable to put a blanket ban" on something like that.

"If they really ban, I’ll feel very sad," said Richard Ng, 67, who smokes within his home bathroom.

"People who are non-smokers may feel that it’s bad... But if you are saying that we cannot smoke in our house, then where can we smoke? You tell me."

Currently, smoking is prohibited at void decks, pavilions and stairwells.

In outdoor open spaces in residential estates, or unsheltered walkways, smoking is permitted.

Arriving at a reasonable compromise between both sides

What, then, is acceptable behaviour regarding smoking within the home?

Lum said that it is better to allow people to smoke within the house, rather than trying to ban it, as the situation for non-smoker would be worse otherwise.

"If they smoke outside the house, like in the void deck, or at the stairs, it's worse. At least if it's inside the house, the smell isn't so bad," she said.

As long as their windows or doors are closed, or if smoke does not get into the common areas, Lum also added that "it's okay".

Ho, who smokes within his unit at Marine Terrace, acknowledged the need to be considerate.

He said that if a neighbour had complained, he would smoke less or refrain from smoking at the window or balcony area since these are areas where smoke is likely to waft into neighbouring units.

Ho also felt that the onus is on both parties to arrive at a reasonable compromise.

"I would be glad to compromise and find a way to make everyone happy but people can’t be selfish basically everyone has to do their own part to be considerate," Ho said.

Claudia Chua, who is in her 40s, also added: "Put it another way, neighbours can also choose to close their windows."

For Lee, who thinks that the proposed ban is unfair to smokers, the solution is not legislation, but rather, compromise between the different parties.

"It's too intrusive. No need lah. This kind of thing can just discuss and arrange," he said.

Summary of what is reasonable

Overall, there was consensus among smokers and non-smokers that such a law is unnecessary.

But it also appears that public opinion is against smokers who let their second-hand smoke drift without consideration for others.

Smokers, it is generally agreed upon, should try to be considerate towards neighbours by ensuring, as far as possible, that the smoke they exhale does not escape and affect non-smokers.

✔ Smoking within the home, even if a bit of smoke can be smelled by neighbours

❌ Smoking just outside the home, in corridors or stairwells

✔ Having a reasonable discussion with your smoker neighbour about his/ her behaviour if it is affecting you

❌ Smoking within the home but very near common spaces, like the window or front gate, where it is likely to escape

❌ Expecting your smoker neighbour to not smoke in the house at all, or always smoke downstairs instead

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