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Singapore sets sights on `smoke-free' goal. Government anti-smoking bid offers enticements to quit

Having gone after public spitting and littering with great success, Singapore's government has turned its attention to another habit it considers bad: smoking. As is typical in this island republic, the emphasis, for the moment, is less on enforcement through law and more on exhortation and shaming the smoker into giving up the habit in the interests of national health.

This approach typifies past campaigns to produce better behavior, including public urgings to have Singaporeans smile more often; avoid being late for appointments; and stop speaking regional Chinese dialects in favor of Mandarin. Earlier campaigns to stop spitting and littering in the streets were also backed by heavy fines for those who did not get the message.

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The government's avowed aim is to see Singapore as tobacco smoke-free zone by the next generation.

According to Health Minister Richard Hu, the number of smokers among people aged 15 and above fell from 23 percent in 1979 to 19 percent in 1984. This is far lower than most other parts of Asia. In China, for instance, it is estimated that 75 percent of all men smoke.

The anti-smoking campaign is very much in line with the way Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sees the role of government.

In a recently published interview Mr. Lee observed: ``Looking back over the last 30 years, one of the driving forces that made Singapore succeed was that the majority of people placed the importance of the welfare of society above the individual. To be kind to people, you have to be firm and sometimes apparently unfeeling. You don't achieve a better life by being kind and considerate.''

The campaign climaxed with the launch of a smoke-free week on Jan. 11 during which volunteers in distinctive uniforms prowled the streets handing out ``quit smoking'' kits to anyone caught with cigarette in hand. Non-smoking members of the public were encouraged to do the same with friends and colleagues.

And some companies have formed support groups of non-smokers who joined with a smoking colleague in signing a pledge to quit the habit. The support groups are supposed to be around constantly to ensure there is no backsliding.

Other carrots being offered include lower room rates for non-smokers at a number of leading hotels.

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Singapore's armed forces have also declared war on smoking following discovery that over 40 per cent of servicemen were smokers in a 1983 survey. As befits the military, the line being taken is tougher. There is a ban on the sale and advertising of cigarettes at any military facility, withdrawal of servicemen's entitlement to buy duty-free cigarettes on overseas training, and a ban on smoking in all common meeting rooms and offices.

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