Should you be allowed to smoke at home?
This may seem like a ridiculous question. After all, why can’t you smoke in a place you call your own?
Unfortunately, this question has been in the news in Singapore recently, and it has ignited a fiery debate between smokers and non-smokers.
It started when some members of Parliament sought stronger rules against smokers in flats because their second-hand smoke may affect neighbours. Apparently, many residents like to puff up out their windows.
Given the proximity of flats in Singapore, the cigarette smoke would often make its way into neighbours’ flats. To avoid inhaling the smoke, the neighbours, especially those with children at home, would be forced to close the windows. A local newspaper interviewed a resident who chose to go the passive-aggressive route by spraying scented insecticide in the direction of the smoke.
I do not smoke, and I haven’t had the problem of second-hand smoke wafting in my direction either. But the problem must be quite severe for some, hence the suggestion that smoking at home be completely banned.
Many advocates of the ban point out that smokers may be trying to protect their families from second-hand smoke, but by lighting up at their balconies or windows they are only endangering innocent neighbours. Of course, the irony isn’t lost on anyone.
On the other hand, critics maintain that it’s important to give and take, given Singapore’s diverse population. A ban may seem like an easy solution, but is it really the best one? After all, we can always choose to speak with our neighbours and explore a compromise.
If we ban anything and everything that disturbs our neighbours, what kind of an environment are we creating?
Even if a ban were introduced, how effective would it be? How would it be enforced?
As it is, smokers in Singapore have had to deal with a dramatic decline in smoking spaces. Orchard Road, a major attraction for shoppers and tourists, is to be smoke-free by the end of this year. Smoking has also been snuffed out in most buildings. Even traditional eateries, where smoking was common, have clearly marked areas for smokers and non-smokers.
Yes, smoking harms not just smokers, but those around them. But a delicate balance has to be struck between protecting individual and collective rights. If we set more rules, we may end up creating a more divisive society.
What would help is open communication. Talk to your neighbours nicely and if that doesn’t work, perhaps other parties can be brought in to help with negotiations. Both smokers and non-smokers can surely be more considerate and sensitive to one another. (Tan Ying Zhen)