SINGAPORE, April 9 — From March 2024, first-time offenders in schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) caught buying, using or possessing e-vaporisers, or vapes, can be fined up to S$2,000 after being referred to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

In a joint statement by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and HSA today, the authorities announced moves to intensify enforcement and education efforts against e-vaporisers, including in schools.

From Jan 1 to March 31 this year, around 250 cases were referred to HSA by schools and IHLs for vaping offences, said the statement.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) will also be notified when students are caught by HSA or other enforcement agencies outside of school settings for vaping offences.

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While vaping is illegal and offenders can already be fined up to S$2,000, an MOE spokesperson said in response to CNA’s query in December last year that schools inform the parents and confiscate the devices of students caught vaping.

Teachers will also mete out “appropriate disciplinary actions” such as suspension, caning for male students and refer offenders to student health advisors or place them on Health Promotion Board (HPB) cessation programmes.

Repeat offenders may be referred to HSA, which may issue a fine, said MOE at that time.

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The authorities said today that IHLs have been reviewing sanctions which include corrective work orders or mandatory community service.

Other sanctions include the revoking of hostel privileges for recalcitrant student offenders from the autonomous universities caught possessing or peddling vapes.

“Schools and IHLs will continue their regular detection and enforcement efforts through internal reporting channels and campus patrols.

“For students who are caught vaping, in addition to the penalty imposed by HSA, schools and IHLs will continue to mete out consequences through existing disciplinary frameworks, such as suspension or caning (for boys in schools).”

In addition to enforcement efforts, schools and IHLs are collaborating with HPB to “amplify anti-vaping messages” in educational materials and preventive programmes, to raise awareness on the harms of vaping and provide “cessation support” for students caught vaping.

These programmes include tele-counselling service QuitLine and on-site counselling services run by student health advisors, which in 2023 provided around 2,350 youths with smoking and vaping cessation counselling.

Of the youth participants, nearly four in 10, or 38 per cent, had either reduced or quit smoking, vaping or both activities one month after counselling.

Close to 90,000 students have been informed by the HPB about the harm and illegality of vaping in schools to date, said the authorities.

Last year, more than 3,000 e-vaporiser-related online listings were removed. This marked a “significant increase” from the 2,600 online listings removed in 2022, said MOH and HSA.

The authorities also issued a letter of notice to 16 social media services and e-commerce platforms on March 11 to remind them that hosting vaping-related content is in breach of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act.

Intensifying overall enforcement

More than 2,200 individuals were caught for the possession or use of e-vaporisers in the first quarter of 2024.

In addition to student vaping cases referred by schools and IHLs, offenders were caught at the borders, and during intensified patrols at public areas such as the central business district, entertainment outlets and around shopping centres.

The number of people caught for the possession or use of vapes shot up 60 per cent from 4,916 caught in 2022 to 7,838 persons caught in 2023.

“The cases were part of an intensified multi-agency effort by MOH and partner government agencies to enforce against the use of e-vaporisers, in order to protect our population from the harmful effects of e-vaporisers and prevent vaping from being entrenched locally,” said the authorities.

HSA has also seized more than S$7 million worth of e-vaporisers and components in the first quarter of this year, as the HSA disrupted several illegal e-vaporiser distribution networks.

Between Jan 1 and March 31 this year, 40 vape-related cases were detected at the borders during joint operations of which 10 individuals were caught smuggling vapes into Singapore.

The remaining 30 were found in possession of e-vaporisers, and one of the smugglers has been prosecuted while the rest are pending prosecution and enforcement actions.

During the same period, around 1,950 individuals were caught for the possession or use of vapes at stepped up patrols at public areas such as the central business district and around shopping centres.

A total of 34 persons aged between 20 and 43 were convicted in court between October 2023 and March 2024 for the sale of vapes and related components in Singapore, amounting to around S$340,000 in fines in total meted out.

One offender was sentenced to 10 months’ jail in February, which is the longest jail sentence handed out for e-vaporiser related offences so far.

“Concurrent to the stepping up in enforcement and education efforts, MOH will review the penalties for e-vaporisers-related offences under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act to ensure continued strong deterrence against such offences,” said the authorities.

Those who possess, use or purchase e-vaporisers can be fined up to S$2,000.

Anyone convicted of importing, distributing or selling e-vaporisers and their components can be jailed up to six months or fined up to S$10,000 on a first offence, or receive both punishments.

For subsequent offences, such offenders can be jailed for up to 12 months or be fined up to S$20,000, or both. All prohibited tobacco items will be seized and confiscated. — TODAY