A recent report wrote about the sharp increase in contraband cigarettes seized at the borders of Singapore (“Smuggling cases hit a new high”, Aug 6) and applaud the authorities for stepping up their checks. The rise in demand is fed by two groups of consumers: The first group is the burgeoning number of Singaporean smokers, which is being addressed by the authorities through education and enforcement.
The second group is the “imported demand” of foreigners/migrant workers working in Singapore who smoke. With the burgeoning economy here, Singapore boasts a large number of migrant workers from China and South Asia.
These migrant workers bring with them their smoking habit. China boasts the highest consumption of Marlboro and other cigarettes in the world; according to the tobacco atlas by the World Health Organization in 2002, about 67 per cent of the population smokes, with males accounting for the majority of cigarette smokers.
However, with cigarettes much more expensive here than in their home country, due to the high excise tax in Singapore, and with their limited income, migrant workers naturally turn to contraband cigarettes, which have a street price of between $2 and $4.
Policy-makers can consider intensifying public education among migrant workers on the harmful effects of smoking, by engaging civil society groups such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) to deliver talks to foreign workers at dormitories, workplaces or roadshows. They can also work with employers to send workers to smoking cessation clinics, run by such groups.
The message should be simple: They can bring back wealth and health to their homeland by kicking the smoking habit.
On top of the carrot, the stick should be wielded, in the form of stiffer penalties for smokers (both local and foreigners alike) who are caught smoking illegal cigarettes.
They should also be encouraged to blow the whistle on peddlers of contraband cigarettes through incentives, with informants rewarded handsomely.
If education proves too tough a task, to control the supply of illegal cigarettes, one possibility is producing cigarettes meant specially for foreign workers – perhaps by shortening each stick, hence lowering the cost. These can be designated for sale only to migrant workers who can produce their FIN card.