Shisha ban in Singapore (2014)

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Hookahs (foreground) are the main apparatus used to smoke shisha tobacco. Photo from TODAY.

In November 2014, the Singapore authorities introduced a shisha ban to curb smoking and tobacco sales. The ban affected restaurants in Kampung Glam and Clarke Quay that served shisha.

Shisha smoking

The hookah (left) has an attached tube where users inhale from. Photo from The Straits Times.

Shisha smoking was considered a recreational activity. Restaurants that offered shisha were clustered in Kampong Glam and Clarke Quay. Unlike smoking cigarettes, smoking shisha is described as “smoking fruit-flavoured tobacco and passing the smoke through water in the apparatus”.[1]

Popularity

There were reportedly 59 shisha joints in 2009, as compared to 2 in 2002, which reflected shisha’s growing popularity.[2]


Shisha was widely smoked by youths and young adults in Singapore. A 2010 National Health Survey indicated that 7.8% of adults aged 18 to 29 years old smoked shisha at least occasionally, as compared to the 1% among adults aged 30 and above. A Student Health Survey found that there was an increase in the proportion of students who used alternative tobacco products, from 2% in 2009 to 9% in 2012.[3]

Health risks

According to the World Health Organisation, a 45-minute shisha smoking session was estimated to be equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes. This was reportedly more than an average smoker’s weekly intake. Additionally, shisha smokers are exposed to a higher level of harmful toxicants, including carbon monoxide, nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals. This makes shisha no less harmful or addictive than other forms of tobacco use.[4] According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), shisha smoke harms bystanders and subjects them to second-hand smoking.[5]

Details of legislation

The tobacco used for shisha.

In 2009, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and Health Sciences Authority (HSA) reviewed and proposed changes to the existing Smoking (Control of Advertisement and Sale of Tobacco) (Cast) Act. The amendments were made in response to underage smoking and the growing popularity of shisha joints.[6][7] The HSA reported that in 2008, 6,671 underaged smokers were caught as compared to the 6,584 in 2007.[8]

2014 shisha ban

On 28 November 2014, the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, announced the ban on the import, distribution and sale of shisha tobacco.[9] Existing licensed tobacco importers and retailers of shisha tobacco were allowed to operate until 31 July 2016. According to HSA, this transitional measure gave the businesses “ample time to deplete their stock” and to “restructure”. After the grace period, the importing, wholesaling and retailing of shisha tobacco were strictly prohibited.[10]


Under the amended Smoking (Cast) Act, any individual who contravened the ban on shisha was liable to a fine of up to S$10,000, or 6 months imprisonment, or both. A repeat offender was liable to a fine of up to S$20,000, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.[11]

Reported prosecutions

HSA organised enforcement strategies to implement the ban. It encouraged members of the public to report information on illegal imports, distribution or sale of shisha tobacco.[12]


In 2016, the HSA prosecuted 5 retailers for the unlicensed sale of shisha tobacco at their Kampong Glam outlets.[13] The retailers were fined a total of S$14,200. In 2017, it was reported that HSA prosecuted a director and his company for the unlicensed sale of shisha in 2014. He was fined S$12,300.[14]

Responses

A screengrab of Isabelle Yeo's petition on Change.org.

Online petition

An online petition was created on Change.org to appeal the legislation. The petition was created by Isabelle Yeo, an NUS Law school graduate. Isabelle Yeo also wrote an open letter to the MOH, urging them to review the ban. Yeo argued that the ban would have a detrimental effect on the businesses in Kampong Glam as well as on the social landscape of Singapore.[15][16]


In response, MOH asserted that the ban was necessary to ensure that shisha smoking - an act that was “not an inherent characteristic of the heritage of Arab Street/Kampong Glam area” - was not entrenched in Singapore society, like cigarettes.[17]

Public sentiment

A headline from TODAY's opinion column called "Voices", dated 8 November 2014.

While members of the public acknowledged MOH’s reasons, most disagreed with the implementation of a blanket ban. Most viewed the ban to be extreme and reflected that Singapore was getting “over-regulated”.[18][19] According to a newspaper column written by Lee Shuhui, the ban highlighted the authorities’ paternalistic approach to social issues which “unduly infringes on individual liberty”.[20]


Many urged the government to adopt less drastic measures, such as imposing taxes on shisha instead of a total ban.[21] Dr Danny Tan also inquired on the contradiction in tobacco control, citing that even though cigarette-smoking was more prevalent, it “was here to stay”.[22]


In response to these perspectives, MOH noted that shisha smoking was a relatively recent development. It was timely and necessary to impose the ban before it became entrenched.[23] The National Health Survey recorded that 14.3 per cent of adults aged 18 to 69 smoke cigarettes daily as compared to the lower shisha numbers. Hence, it would require more time to phase out smoking from Singapore.[24]

Retailers

Following the ban, shops that sold shisha products saw a drop in their earnings. These shops reported that shisha sales accounted for 60 to 80% of their business.[25] According to some restaurant owners, they experienced a 60% loss of customers after they stopped providing the tobacco product.[26]


Some owners who had depleted their stock noted a 90% drop in sales, amounting to around S$5,000 to S$15,000 per month. Restaurants who struggled to restructure their business model and had to sell their establishments.[27]

Aftermath

In the ban’s aftermath, Kampong Glam experienced changes in its landscape and social nightlife. The shisha joints made way for hair salons, fashion boutiques and cafes. This brought in a wave of cafe culture to Kampong Glam, attracting a different kind of crowd.[28]


According to retailers, Kampong Glam had a ‘grungy’ reputation before the 2014 shisha ban. The shisha joints attracted many underaged smokers and fights broke out regularly. In contrast, the area was now considered “more peaceful” with an increasing number of families and children in the area.[29][30]


In light of the ban’s reported success, MOH implemented similar bans on other tobacco products such as e-cigarettes.[31]

References / Citations

  1. Lim Bee Khim. “Need to ban shisha before habit becomes entrenched”. Today. November 14, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  2. Zul Othman. “‘Safer? That’s just smoke”. Today. August 3, 2009. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  3. Lim Bee Khim. “Need to ban shisha before habit becomes entrenched”. Today. November 14, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  4. Lim Bee Khim. “Need to ban shisha before habit becomes entrenched”. Today. November 14, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  5. “Response from MOH on the Shisha petition”. Change.org. November 27, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-health-singapore-review-ban-on-shisha-in-singapore/u/8859896
  6. Zul Othman. “‘Safer? That’s just smoke”. Today. August 3, 2009. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. Wong, Alicia. “Include more sales points?”. Today. October 8, 2009. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  8. Zul Othman. “‘Safer? That’s just smoke”. Today. August 3, 2009. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  9. Amir Hussain. “Cafe owners expect big hit from shisha ban”. The Straits Times. November 5, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  10. “Singapore Enhances Tobacco Control Measures”. Health Science Authority. July 28, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.hsa.gov.sg/content/hsa/en/News_Events/Press_Releases/2016/singapore-enhancestobaccocontrolmeasures.html
  11. “Singapore Enhances Tobacco Control Measures”. Health Science Authority. July 28, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.hsa.gov.sg/content/hsa/en/News_Events/Press_Releases/2016/singapore-enhancestobaccocontrolmeasures.html
  12. “Shisha ban starts today”. The New Paper. November 28, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  13. “HSA prosecutes five for unlicensed sale of shisha tobacco”. Health Sciences Authority. September 16, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from National Archives Singapore.
  14. Chew Hui Min. “Director and his company fined $12,300 for unlicensed sale of shisha”. The Straits Times. June 21, 2017. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/director-and-his-company-fined-12300-for-unlicensed-sale-of-shisha
  15. Isabelle Yeo. “Review ban on shisha in Singapore”. Change.org. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-health-singapore-review-ban-on-shisha-in-singapore
  16. Teng, Amelia. “Online petition to review shisha ban”. The Straits Times. November 9, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. “Response from MOH on the Shisha petition”. Change.org. November 27, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-health-singapore-review-ban-on-shisha-in-singapore/u/8859896
  18. Eugene de Rozario. “Not everything in S’pore needs to be regulated”. Today. November 8, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  19. Response from MOH on the Shisha petition”. Change.org. November 27, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-health-singapore-review-ban-on-shisha-in-singapore/u/8859896
  20. Lee Shuhui. “Awareness of ill effects is key”. Today. November 12, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  21. Ace Kindred Cheong. “Raise taxes rather than ban shisha”. Today. November 25, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  22. Tan, Danny Ghee Gay. “Banning shisha but not cigarettes a contradiction”. Today. November 11, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  23. Lim Bee Khim. “Need to ban shisha before habit becomes entrenched”. Today. November 14, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  24. Cheong, Kash. “Confused about the shisha ban? Here’re seven-commonly-asked questions and their answers”. The Straits Times. November 5, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  25. Amir Hussain. “Cafe owners expect big hit from shisa ban”. The Straits Times. November 5, 2014. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  26. Malavika Menon. ‘Shisha ban takes its toll on eateries”. The Straits Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  27. Malavika Menon. ‘Shisha ban takes its toll on eateries”. The Straits Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  28. Loi, Rachel. “Glamming up Kampong Glam”. The Business Times. July 25, 2015. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  29. Malavika Menon. ‘Shisha ban takes its toll on eateries”. The Straits Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  30. Loi, Rachel. “Glamming up Kampong Glam”. The Business Times. July 25, 2015. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  31. “Ban on cigarette displays at cashiers among anti-smoking measures in the pipeline”. Channel NewsAsia. March 12, 2015. Accessed 27 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.