Makeshift smoking corners in heartland not illegal, but smokers should be considerate, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Makeshift smoking corners in heartland not illegal, but smokers should be considerate

Madam Sharmila T. shuns a coffee shop at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 whenever she is out for food with her young children.

Despite clear signs prohibiting smokers from lighting up on its premises, the unwelcome smell of cigarette smoke drifts through the open-air dining area whenever she is there.

“It’s really unpleasant when we’re trying to enjoy our meal,” said the 33-year-old teacher, who has two sons aged seven and four.

The source of the fumes? A cluster of people lighting up at a makeshift smoking corner, mere steps from where people dine.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times that smoking is currently not permitted at more than 49,000 places, both indoors and outdoors.

To limit the impact of second-hand tobacco smoke on non-smokers, smoking corners are typically placed at peripheral sections of outdoor refreshment areas and are limited to 20 per cent of these spaces, the agency added.

NEA has stopped accepting applications for new smoking corners at retail food establishments since June 2017, and such smoking corners will be phased out when licences of the establishments are terminated or cancelled, it said.

Smoking is also prohibited at “any area within 5m of ventilation intakes, external windows, openings, entrances and exits to buildings of commercial, industrial or recreational purposes or publicly accessible”, according to NEA’s website.

NEA told ST that its officers actively check and take enforcement action against errant smokers, including for littering, with more than 14,600 tickets issued in 2023 for smoking in prohibited places.

But smoking is allowed in certain areas, such as open areas in residential estates and town centres.

In response to queries, the agency said: “There is no prohibition for makeshift smoking points, as long as the smoking points are not smoking-prohibited places under the Smoking Regulations.”

Following a complaint about a makeshift smoking corner near an Upper Serangoon Crescent coffee shop on the Complaint Singapore Facebook group, ST visited 12 coffee shops in areas including Bendemeer, Bedok, Chinatown and Bukit Panjang, as well as the one at Upper Serangoon Crescent.

Makeshift smoking corners were found near almost all the coffee shops, some close to sheltered walkways. These corners were marked with plastic chairs, benches and the occasional foldable table. Even during off-peak hours, smokers were occasionally seen sitting in the area puffing away at several of these corners. During peak hours, large groups of people can be observed smoking at some of these corners.

While checking out coffee shops in various areas, ST also observed that makeshift smoking zones are frequently strewn with cigarette butts, empty cigarette packets and foil papers typically found inside cigarette boxes.

Meanwhile, it was claimed in the Complaint Singapore post that the makeshift smoking corner near the Upper Serangoon Crescent coffee shop had blocked a fire engine access route.

When ST visited the coffee shop on Jan 3, a notice from the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, dated Dec 28, 2023, was placed at the smoking corner. It warned against blocking the access route with chairs and other items.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), responding to queries, stated that as at Jan 9, no fire safety violations were found at the location.

NEA told ST that it “encourages smokers to be socially responsible when smoking at public places, and to not light up at smoking-prohibited places”.

“Owners of premises should also be considerate when allowing makeshift smoking corners to be set up,” it added.