Facts about tobacco smoking in Singapore

Facts About Tobacco and Tobacco Products

Most people will immediately think of cigarettes whenever tobacco is mentioned. However, there are many other tobacco products out in the market. But as they are not as commonly seen and publicised, many people are unaware of the dangers associated with these products.

Tobacco plant field

  • Tobacco is made from the fresh leaves of the tobacco plant shown above.
  • Mature tobacco leaves are harvested and then left to dry through curing a process that allows the leaves to dry and age over time.
  • Curing brings about the flavour and smell of the tobacco that its users may find attractive.
  • The dried tobacco is made available to the public as various forms of tobacco products. Tobacco is processed and packaged so it can be:
    • smoked, as either roll of tobacco (e.g. cigarettes), or inhaled in pipes (e.g. waterpipes, popularly known as shisha)
    • consumed orally (e.g. chewing tobacco)
  • Tobacco contains the drug nicotine which makes a smoker or tobacco-user feel high, due to a rapid release of nicotine which stimulates hormones.
  • But the use of tobacco products also leads to serious health effects, with tobacco consumption associated with about 5 million deaths a year worldwide.

Related: Smoking - Casual Habit or Addiction?

Thank You for Not Smoking: Facts About Cigarettes

Woman holding two cigarettes together.

Cigarettes lead to the deaths of about half its users, a staggering number given that there are more than a billion smokers in the world. Cigarettes are simply sticks of tobacco blend wrapped in paper. So what actually makes a cigarette so dangerous to your health?

Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals. Some of the ingredients in cigarettes include toxic substances like:

  • ammonia (used in floor cleaners)
  • arsenic (found in rat poison)
  • DDT (used in insecticide)
  • carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust fumes)
  • cadmium (cancer-causing substance, used in car batteries)

Related: Kick Smoking for Good

The Truth About Filters in Low-Yield Cigarettes

Bunch of cigarettes

Some cigarette companies offer brands on the market promoted as safer alternatives to regular cigarettes. These safer alternatives are marketed as low-yield cigarettes with enhancements such as filters.

However, there is no convincing evidence to prove that switching to low-yield cigarettes can drastically reduce the likelihood of smoking-induced diseases.

  • Mild, light and ultra-light cigarettes have reduced tar and nicotine levels through ventilated filters on the cigarettes.
  • Filter vents allow air to dilute the smoke being passed through, reducing the concentration of tar and nicotine in every puff.
  • But ventilated filters do not reduce the risk and danger of low-yield cigarettes for several reasons:
    • Smokers unconsciously compensate for the lower nicotine levels by blocking the filter vents with their hands or mouth.
    • Smokers also inhale more deeply when smoking low-yield cigarettes to get a nicotine high similar to normal-yield cigarettes.
    • Smokers are lulled into a false sense of security when studies show that reduced tar levels only slightly lowers the risk of lung cancer, and have little to no effect in reducing the risk of other lung and heart diseases.
  • The best way for smokers to reduce the health risks caused by smoking is not to switch to light or ultra-light cigarettes, but rather to quit smoking entirely.

Related: Benefits of Quitting

From Cuba With Love: Facts about Cigars

Cuban cigars

Cigars are tightly rolled bundles of fermented tobacco wrapped in tobacco leaves, grown in countries like Cuba, Brazil and Indonesia.

The amount of tobacco in cigars is generally several times more than cigarettes. A large cigar can be up to 7 inches in length and can have as much as 20 times the amount of tobacco that a cigarette has.

While cigar smokers normally do not inhale cigar smoke as it is too acrid, the risk of lung cancer of cigar smokers is still 25 times higher than that of non-smokers.

As the majority of the cigar smoke remains in the oral cavity, cigar smokers also have increased risk of:

  • oral cavity cancer, i.e. cancer of the mouth, lip and tongue
  • throat cancer
  • larynx (voice box) cancer
  • chronic heart and lung diseases

Related: Clearing the Air

Doing It Yourself: Facts About Roll-Your-Own Cigarettes (RYO Cigarettes)

Roll-your-own cigarettes or ryo cigarettes

Smokers may choose to roll their own cigarettes as a cheaper alternative to buying regular cigarettes. Sometimes called ang hoon in Singapore, roll-your-own cigarettes (also known as ryo cigarettes or ryo tobacco) consist of loose dried tobacco hand-rolled by smokers in tiny papers before they are smoked.

Due to the thinner appearance of ang hoon, some smokers perceive it as a safer choice to cigarettes. However, available data indicate otherwise:

  • Many of the harmful chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, nicotine and tar, found in cigarettes are also found in the loose tobacco used for roll-your-own cigarettes.
  • Smokers who smoke ang hoon face similar risk of throat and lung cancer, along with other smoking-related diseases, as smokers of regular cigarettes.

Related: Smoking: The Puff to Diabetes

The Lure of the Exotic: Facts About Shisha (Waterpipe) Smoking

Shisha smoking

A shisha is a waterpipe, inside which flavoured tobacco is partially burned. The smoke passes through water held in the waterpipe before being inhaled by smokers through tubes attached to the pipe.

Shisha is seen as a popular social activity, especially among youths who view this as a harmless recreational activity. But Shisha smoking is dangerous. The water in the shisha pipe does NOT absorb harmful substances in the smoke, contrary to popular belief. In fact, even after passing through water, shisha smoke still contains higher levels of carbon monoxide, nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals. This is because the burning of tobacco in a shisha using charcoal produces higher levels of carbon monoxide and cancer-causing chemicals than conventional cigarettes.

A smoker will inhale 100 to 200 times the amount of smoke produced by a single cigarette in one hr. As people tend to sit around and socialise with friends when smoking shisha, a session can easily last for 20 to 80 minutes. As people smoking shisha take more and deeper puffs from the waterpipe, a shisha smoker absorbs a greater concentration of harmful substances than a cigarette smoker.

Related: "Vaping is not smoking", and Other Tobacco Myths

Chew On This: Facts About Oral Smokeless Tobacco in Singapore

Oral smokeless tobacco products are just as harmful and can cause oral cancers.

Oral smokeless tobacco products are products that can be chewed or sucked in the mouth. These include chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco comes in the form of a loose tobacco leaf, while snuff comes in sachets similar to a tea-bag that contains dried or moist forms of finely ground tobacco.

Users place the tobacco in the mouth and suck on it, spitting out the tobacco juices produced.

Is Chewing Tobacco Allowed in Singapore?

Chewing tobacco is prohibited by law in Singapore.

What Are the Effects of tobacco Chewing?

Consumption of oral smokeless tobacco is prevalent in the United States, Scandinavia and parts of Asia. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe substitute for cigarette smoking. Oral tobacco is a major form of tobacco addiction and causes cancer of the head, mouth, neck and throat including:

  • Cancer due to the presence of 28 different cancer-causing (carcinogenic) substances found in chewing tobacco.
  • Oral health problems, e.g. bad breath, tooth decay, receding gums and formation of white patches on the soft tissue of the mouth that are difficult to scrape off (leukoplakia).
  • Addiction and dependence on nicotine produced by tobacco.
  • Increased likelihood of the user to become cigarette smokers.

Related: National Tobacco Control Programme

Electronic Addiction: Facts About E-Cigarettes and It’s Harmful Side Effects

Holding a traditional cigarette and vaping device

The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, is touted as the healthier alternative to cigarettes by its manufacturers. However, WHO has never officially endorsed e-cigarettes.

How Do E-Cigarettes Work?

E-cigarettes are devices made to resemble real cigarettes. An e-cigarette consists of a mouthpiece, a heating element, a rechargeable battery and is activated with a cartridge which contains a liquid chemical mixture. The liquid chemical mixture is composed of nicotine (a highly addictive substance found in cigarettes), propylene glycol (a known irritant when inhaled or ingested) and may also contain many other harmful chemicals found in conventional cigarettes. An e-cigarette also has a LED light at the end of the device which lights up to simulate the process of combustion when the smoker inhales.

As the user inhales through the e-cigarette, a heating element powered by a rechargeable battery is activated and vaporises the liquid chemical mixture, generating a fine heated mist. The fine mist generated contains nicotine that is inhaled and absorbed into the user's lungs.

Some marketers of e-cigarettes have claimed that their product is an effective nicotine replacement therapy and a smoking cessation aid endorsed by the World Health Organizations (WHO). However, WHO had issued a press statement in September 2008 stating that it does not support e-cigarettes as a legitimate therapy to help smokers quit as there is a lack of conclusive scientific evidence to substantiate the efficacy, safety and quality of e-cigarettes. WHO also called on marketers of e-cigarettes to immediately stop the unproven claims on e-cigarettes.

Can E-Cigarettes Help You Quit Smoking?

Electronic cigarettes have so far been proven to be neither safe nor effective in helping smokers quit. More research still needs to be done to establish the usefulness of e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. Although e-cigarettes do not contain some of the harmful substances found in normal cigarettes, this does not mean that they are entirely harmless. The nicotine present still poses a health risk to users.

Users may still develop a dependence or addiction to nicotine by inhaling the fine nicotine mist produced by e-cigarettes.

Are Electronic Cigarettes Allowed in Singapore?

Imitation tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes are prohibited by law.

Tobacco and Alternative Tobacco Products Are Not Safe

Consumption of tobacco, in any form, poses a health risk. There are no safer alternatives to cigarettes when it comes to tobacco products. The best way to keep you safe from the harmful effects of tobacco is to stay away entirely. You do not need tobacco products to feel good or to pass the time. Abstaining from tobacco will allow you to lead a healthier, happier life.

Resources for Quitting

Join the I Quit 28-Day Countdown now! Call QuitLine at 1800 438 2000 for support, and visit participating retail pharmacies for advice and products that can help you quit.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.

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