Last week in Parliament #2

singapore parliament
 
There was a lot of important matters that were covered in this week's parliamentary sitting. Here are some highlights in their entirety for your perusal. (Note: we report the parliamentary Q&As as is as opposed to the MSM's abridged versions to help give you, our readers, a clearer idea on what is being done in the house in your name.)
 
Statistics on household spending exceeding income
 
Mr Yee Jenn Jong: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry for households where spending exceeds income (a) whether there is data on the types of income sources that these households use to pay for their expenses; and (b) if the Department of Statistics plans to study the spending and income patterns of these households in more detail and to release further data on this.
 
Answer: Based on findings from the Household Expenditure Survey (HES) 2012/13, the average monthly expenditure of households in the lowest income quintile exceeded their regular income by $210. About a quarter of these households were retiree households who had a bigger spending gap than non-retiree households.
 
These households derive around 61 per cent of their regular income from employment, 12% from business, and 27% from non-work sources such as investments, regular government transfers and contributions from relatives and friends. Households that are spending beyond their regular income may be financing their excess expenditure through irregular receipts such as proceeds from the sale of properties, capital gains on investment, ad-hoc government transfers and irregular contributions from relatives and friends, or a drawdown on their savings.
 
The Department of Statistics (DOS) does not have further data to analyse the breakdown as income receipts that are non-recurrent in nature or arise from a reduction in net worth are not captured by the HES. The focus of the HES is on regular sources of income. This is in accordance with guidelines set out by the International Labour Organisation, the UN’s System of National Accounts, as well as practices of other national statistical offices such as those in Australia and Canada.
 
DOS has released detailed statistics and analyses on the monthly expenditure and regular income of households by income quintiles, as well as retiree households in the HES 2012/13 publication. Interested users can download the publication from DOS’ website.​​
 
Number of individuals receiving ComCare assistance for needy Singaporeans
 
Mr Yee Jenn Jong: ask the Minister for Social and Family Development whether the Ministry can report ComCare statistics in the form of the number of unique individuals and unique households who have actually received assistance, stripping out the effect of those who have received more than one form of assistance. 
 
Answer: ComCare provides low income and needy households and individuals with financial assistance to help them with subsistence needs, as well as kindergarten and student care assistance. In Financial Year 2013, 41,036 unique households or 79,333 unique individuals received ComCare assistance.
 
Why ban Shisha
 
Dr Chia Shi-Lu: To ask the Minister for Health (a) what is the evidence of the harmful effects of shisha; (b) what is the prevalence of shisha use in Singapore; and (c) whether the Ministry will review its policies to strengthen the regulation of shisha use.
 
Answer: Shisha smoking is no less harmful to health as other forms of tobacco use.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a typical session of shisha smoking involves the inhalation of smoke that is equivalent to smoking 100 or more cigarettes. This exposes the shisha smoker to high levels of harmful smoke toxicants including tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine. A research study in the United States found higher levels of such toxicants in shisha smoke compared to cigarette smoke. According to the WHO, the health risks for shisha smokers and exposed by-standers include cancer, heart diseases, respiratory diseases, and adverse effects on unborn babies if exposure occurs during pregnancy. Several studies also found that shisha smoke contains high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. This increases the ambient pollutant levels which can adversely impact bystanders.
 
Due to the sweet smelling smoke and passing of the smoke through water in the apparatus, there are often misconceptions that shisha smoking is less harmful and addictive. A recent WHO report on shisha smoking stated that the misconceptions, together with the social nature of shisha smoking, have contributed to an increase in shisha smoking globally, particularly among young people, which raises further concerns that shisha smoking may serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking.  
 
Similar trends have been observed locally.  The National Health Survey 2010 showed that 7.8% of young adults aged 18-29 years smoke shisha at least occasionally, compared to 1% among older adults. The Student Health Survey found that the proportion of students who used alternative tobacco products, including shisha, had increased from 2% in 2009 to 9% in 2012. In another study conducted by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), 3 in 5 (61.1%) shisha smokers wrongly believed that smoking shisha was less harmful than cigarettes.
 
My Ministry has reviewed the regulatory framework for shisha over the past year, with a view to strengthening the control of shisha. In view of the health risks associated with shisha smoking and to prevent the proliferation and entrenchment of shisha smoking in Singapore, my Ministry intends to prohibit the import, distribution and sale of shisha.
 
The ban will be effected later this month, via the publication of the new Prohibited Tobacco Products Regulations made under Section 15 of the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act. However, as a transitional measure, existing licensed tobacco importers and retailers who import or sell shisha tobacco will be allowed to continue importing and retailing shisha tobacco until 31 July 2016. This allows such importers and retailers ample time to deplete their stock and restructure their businesses away from the shisha business. My Ministry will also continue to enhance public education efforts on the harms of shisha smoking.
 
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