Gambling is a vice. Smoking is also a vice.

Gambling can bring misery to gamblers and their families. Similarly…

…smoking can bring untold pain to smokers and their families.

Gambling is addictive. So is smoking. Gambling can have an adverse effect on non-gamblers. So can smoking on non-smokers.

First, Singapore allowed gambling in the form of horse racing and the lottery. Then 4D, Big Sweep, Toto and soccer betting followed. Now, the Government is thinking of opening a casino.

For smoking, it was freedom of expression for all in the beginning. The people could smoke anywhere they wished.

Then, they were prohibited from blowing plumes of smoke in public places like cinemas, theatres and specified buildings.

After that, the rule was extended to air-conditioned restaurants which included canteens and eating houses. Now, the Government is considering banning smoking in pubs.

I find it very interesting that the two vices are heading in different directions; while one is proliferating, the other is heading towards extinction.

The beauty of it all is that most of the arguments for and against the introduction of a casino in Singapore are applicable to smoking in pubs. Let me explain.

One of the justifications for having a casino is to attract tourist dollars. Will Singapore not get more dollars if it allows smoking and aggressive cigarette advertisements? Why then restrict smoking if dollars are what Singapore is looking for?

Mr Chiam Yeow Khong, the head of the Environmental Health Department at the National Environment Agency, has the answer to that question.

In response to letters from Today readers, he wrote in Weekend Today (Nov 13-14): “The Government is committed to protecting the health of non-smokers against involuntary exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke.”

Therefore, I presume that that noble commitment must precede all other considerations, right?

Then, it must be the responsibility of the Government to also safeguard non-gamblers from the harmful effects of having a casino.

Some say: “Forget about the social costs for the time being. Singaporeans cannot cultivate entrepreneurial spirit if they have to wait until they are convinced that the economic benefits far outweigh the costs before they embark on the casino project. They have to take some risks.”

It should be the same for smoking, shouldn’t it? The costs of smoking may be said to be exaggerated if George Burns is taken as an example. The actor smoked his first cigar at the age of 12, was rarely seen without one and died two months before his 100th birthday.

So why curb smoking in pubs? Let the spirit of risk-taking thrive.

How about the sacred freedom of choice? Living in a community requires the people to respect one another’s right to choose. They cannot just think of themselves, can they?

If that is the case, then there should be no objection to having a casino or allowing smoking in pubs.

Singapore can have a casino. It can have smoking and non-smoking pubs. Let the people decide if they want to patronise them or not.

If the Government decides not to have a casino, it should also ban smoking in pubs.

The message: Singapore has had enough of gambling and smoking.

If the Government is for a casino and against smoking in pubs, it will send a mixed signal.

As Snowball in George Orwell’s Animal Farm will write: “Gambling, good. Smoking, bad.”

Okay, I know. Gambling and smoking are separate issues!

(This article was published in the TODAY newspaper on 3 February 2005.)