DRINKING AND SMOKING IN SINGAPORE

DRINKS IN SINGAPORE

Singapore Slings served at the Raffles Hotel are world famous. Many other restaurants and bars serve there own exotic and potent tropical cocktails. Singapore Slings are made from sweet gin, grenadine and orange juice and were invented in 1915 by a bartender at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel and described in the prose of both Conrad and Maugham. Imported wines, whiskeys and liquor are widely available—and they aren't too expensive.

Fruit drinks are plentiful and delicious. They are often served in plastic bags with a straw. Try ones mixed with milk. Fruit drinks severed on the streets are often mixed with salt and served in plastic bags. Fresh coconuts are refreshing and hygienic. Drink the water with a straw straight from the coconut.

The Singaporeans have traditionally been big tea drinkers. Local tea specialties included ice lemon tea (poured hot over ice and given a generous portion of sugar), and teh tarik (hot tea mixed with super sweet condensed milk). Teh tarik, or “pulled tea”, is made by “tossing” tea with condensed milk. Many fancy hotels and cafeterias in department stores offer high tea around 3:00pm. Unlike English-style afternoon tea, which is traditionally served with scones and cakes, Singaporean-style high tea is served with a variety fo foods, including cakes, noodles, dim sung and chicken. The Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel is famous for its high tea.

Singaporeans consume more coffee per capita than any other Asians. Traditional coffee, or kopi, is strong coffee sweetened with gooey sweetened condensed milk. It is prepared by pouring pitchers of hot water through a sock-like filter filled with powdered grounds of coffee. It is served in small plastic bag and sucked with a straw and sold at local food courts, hawker stalls or local coffee shops, called kopi thiams, with rickety plastic tables and plastic stools. These days Starbuck style coffee shops, offering espressos and cappuccinos, are becoming increasingly popular.

Beer and Wine in Singapore

The most common alcoholic drink is beer. Tiger and Anchor are two locally produced beers. Tiger is a refreshing, gold-colored lager with a 5.1 percent alcohol content. Anchor is a dry, hoppy Pilsner. ABC Stout is a strong (8.1 percent alcohol), creamy bottom-fermenting stout. San Miguel, Singha, and Tsingtao are popular brands of beer. People often put ice in their beer. Singaporeans consumed 25 liters (5½ gallons) of beer per head in the early 2000s. Although this is one of the highest beer consumption rates in Asia is is small compared to, say, England where the consumption rate is 130 liters (28½ gallons) per head.

Wine is getting big. Bottles of chateau de Rothschild are available for over $1000 a bottle at wine shops. Many people collect wine as an investment. In 2005 each bottle of wine was taxed at S$9.50 per litre, whether it's a classic vintage or generic house wine.

Between 1994 and 1997, the importation of wine in Hong, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia almost doubled. It is believed that the majority of buyers were Chinese who had been persuaded that red wine especially was good for one's health.

Singapore residents drank an average of 1.2 litres (2.5 pints) of wine in 2003, making them the third-largest wine consumers per capita in the region behind Japan and Hong Kong, according to wine fair organiser Vinexpo. "Wine in Asia is growing at a very fast pace, there's definitely a trend towards drinking wine, away from traditionally popular drinks like spirits," Victor Szechenyi, the co-owner of a popular al fresco wine bar in Singapore, told AFP. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 13, 2005]

Binge Drinking Youth in Singapore

In March 2012, Chang Ai-Lien and , Candice Neo wrote in the Straits Times Indonesia: “Laughing and talking loudly between swigs from a vodka bottle, the private university student said he drinks at least three times a week, at places like Holland Village, Clarke Quay and the nightspot Zouk in Jiak Kim Street. He confessed with a laugh that he started drinking at 13, when his father gave him his first beer. Now, he said, "I drink everything." He was winding up a night out with five friends. The length of the unlit Liang Court bridge where he lounges is littered with empty spirit bottles, toppled beer cans, and pools of vomit. Several other groups are there too, nursing bottles of alcohol and cans of beer. [Source: Chang Ai-Lien , Candice Neo, Straits Times Indonesia, March 12, 2012 ^^]

“The easy availability and social acceptance of alcohol, more disposable income and a partying culture have drawn more young people to drink, experts said. Singapore may boast one of the world’s lowest rates of alcohol abuse, but worryingly, young adults are beginning to buck the trend. Those aged 18 to 34 are twice as likely to drink excessively and binge drink, according to the most comprehensive study on the disorder here. “We can’t be complacent and say the figures are low because we need to keep an eye on the younger age group where the figure is not so low, especially since there’s a large treatment gap,” said Dr Subramaniam Mythily, deputy director of the Institute of Mental Health’s (IMH) research division. ^^

“About 3.6 percent of people here suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence some time in their lives, leading to problems at home, work or in school, and later on, it can mean impairment and distress. “But in the 18 to 34 age group, you double these odds,” said Dr Mythily, who led a team which analysed the figures. A total of 5.3 percent of such young adults are addicted to alcohol in their lifetime, she found. What is worse, four in five people here with alcohol-related woes do not seek help for the problem, which causes liver and heart disease and cancer, and accounts for 3.8 percent of deaths globally. ^^

“Her team’s new paper stems from the $6.9 million Singapore Mental Health Study, in which more than 6,600 people aged 18 and above were interviewed for the first nationwide mental health census. The paper has been accepted for publication in Addiction, the top journal in the field. According to IMH, its National Addictions Management Service treats roughly 500 to 600 patients with alcohol addiction problems each year. The number of new cases has fluctuated between 240 and 368 in the four years ending in March last year. ^^

“But the numbers do not tell the full story, said Dr Gomathinayagam Kandasami, acting chief of IMH’s Department of Addiction Medicine. “Many people do not think it’s a problem and others are in denial or are afraid to seek help because of the stigma associated with it,” he said. The youngest patient so far was 14, while others as young as 16 admitted that they had been drinking for several years. Dr Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist in the private sector, said: “I see a fair number of patients for anxiety and depression, and they often don’t volunteer the information, but if I ask, I find out they do drink too much as well. “Often, alcohol abuse and dependence are a coping mechanism for other life issues.” Psychiatrists in private practice said that they are seeing more cases of young people drinking, particularly binge drinking. ^^

“Associate Professor Munidasa Winslow said: “We’re seeing it more often, even in schools, with many drinking at an earlier age. “The aim is to get high. They don’t just want a buzz, they want to test the limits of just how high they can get.” The psychiatrist in private practice, an addiction expert who pioneered addiction services here, said that some people binge to the extent that they black out, while others end up in bed with a stranger, in fights, in accidents or even in jail. ^^

“Suggestions thrown up by the experts to stem the drinking habit in the young include more campaigns and talks, particularly in schools, and stricter enforcement against those who sell alcohol to underage drinkers. Also, alcohol could be labelled to allow people to estimate how much they are drinking and what constitutes a safe amount, and screening methods could be taught to more general practitioners and community service groups. Dr Thomas Lee, a psychiatrist in private practice and past chief of the IMH addiction medicine department, said that a council for problem drinking, similar to the National Council on Problem Gambling, would be able to tackle the issue on all fronts, including research, education and policy. “The importance of public education cannot be over-emphasized,” he said. “Most of the patients that I have treated were not even aware of the dangers of excessive drinking.” ^^

Wine Embraced by Middle-Class Singaporeans

In 2005, AFP reported: “Colin Chee usually spends Saturday evenings sipping a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc over dinner with a few close buddies. Chee is no well-heeled banker, lawyer or doctor. The 42-year-old wine lover is a recruitment officer for the Singapore police band. The wine may be a cheap bottle of plonk from the neighbourhood supermarket, and dinner plain poached salmon at his spartan public housing apartment, but there's no stopping Chee from toasting to his new-found passion. "I take it as a form of education, and besides, it's a great way to unwind with friends," Chee tells AFP, swilling his glass thoughtfully to let the wine breathe. The onetime beer drinker discovered the wonders of wine during his honeymoon in Australia in 1990. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 13, 2005 \=\]

“Wine drinking, a practice once considered exclusive to the elite in Asia, is enjoying a boom among middle-class or even blue-collar drinkers in the region. Chee, for instance, makes S$$3500 (US$2200) a month, a modest salary by local standards. But some Singaporeans earning even less than Chee are beginning to consume wine regularly despite relatively high prices as a result of taxes. A bottle of Lindemans Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon, a popular tipple, costs S$23.90 (US$14.6). \=\

“Experts attribute this upsurge to an increasingly affluent and discerning population, evident in the queues snaking outside Singapore's wine bars and pubs on weekend nights. "The potential of wine-drinking in Singapore is very much driven by the on-premise sales of wine in pubs and bars," says wine consultant Tham. "People these days talk about 'the art of living' and see having wine as part of this lifestyle," says Tham, who organises wine-and-dine tours offering views of the city-state's modern skyline. \=\

“Szechenyi, whose cosy wine bar saw a 80 percent growth in sales over the past year, adds: "There's definitely a perception among Asians that wine drinkers are classy people, people go to wine bars nowadays because it's the 'right' place to go." But perhaps the clearest indication of public support for wines has been the success of supermarket wine sales. \=\

“The "Just Wine" club set up by NTUC Fairprice, a supermarket chain owned by a state-linked labour union, has attracted more than 2000 members since its launch eight months ago, according to company spokeswoman Emerald Yip. For a S$20 yearly membership, club members get discounts on the 1500 mainly low-to-mid range wines, housed in dedicated sections at Fairprice supermarkets island-wide. "We make it a point to keep our wines affordable, so that we can spread the love of wine across to the masses," says club president Gerry Lee. To "demystify" the notion that wine is for the elite, Lee and his team of wine connoisseurs gather members for regular wine-sampling sessions. Next on the cards, says Lee, is a "discovery tour" of Australian vineyards, slated to coincide with the mid-year school holidays in Singapore. \=\

“Even in cosmopolitan Singapore, drinking wine remains an exotic and foreign practice to most of the population. "Asians are very particular about face, they're worried if they don't know enough about wine to talk about it, they'll end up looking foolish," says wine consultant Tham. But Chee, the Singapore police band recruiter, is not one of them. "Wine is an art, there are so many things to talk about," he says confidently as he savours his sauvignon blanc. \=\

Heineken, Asian Pacific Breweries and Tiger Beer

Asian Pacific Breweries of Singapore, the producer of Tiger and Anchor beers, is one of the largest beer makers in Asia. Originally called Malaysian Breweries, it was formed in 1931 as a joint venture between Fraser Neame and Heineken and has now 24 Asian breweries and is involved in many joint ventures. Tiger is brewed in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It’s marketing slogan “Time for a Tiger” was the name of an Anthony Burgess novel. Tiger Classic is a mellow, golden season brew made of crystal malt for New Year’s Day.

In August 2012, Eveline Danubrata and David Jones of Reuters wrote: “Heineken won control on Friday of the Asian group which brews Tiger beer when Singapore's Fraser and Neave (F&N) agreed to sell its stake in the firm for S$5.1 billion ($4.1 billion), a deal which will help boost the Dutch group's Asian growth. The purchase gives Heineken 82 percent of the prized Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) and it will now launch an offer for the rest of the company, while F&N, a drinks and property group, could be broken up eventually. Amsterdam-based Heineken already owned 42 percent of APB, and buying F&N's 40 percent stake will help it to defend its turf which is under threat from Thailand's second-richest man. [Source: Eveline Danubrata and David Jones, Reuters, August 3, 2012]

F&N's board, whose chairman Lee Hsien Yang is the younger son of Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew, will recommend the S$50 an APB share deal to its shareholders, Heineken said in a statement. The Dutch company will now mop up minority shareholders at a similar price to make the total purchase worth about $6 billion. Control of APB is vital for Heineken, the world's third largest brewer, as this will raise the proportion of its total profits from the fast-growing Asian market to 15 percent from 6 percent, while boosting the growth rate of the whole group.

By winning APB, Heineken gets ownership of Tiger, Bintang, Anchor and other brands of beer plus two dozen breweries in 14 countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. However, the biggest brand APB brews is Heineken itself, which accounts for 30 percent of its volumes. Heineken shares jumped to a record high earlier after Reuters reported the deal, and when official confirmation came through later they hit a fresh high of 46.30 euros.

Heineken began brewing Tiger with F&N in the 1930s but that partnership hit the rocks after Thai Beverage and others linked to Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi bought stakes in F&N and APB for $3 billion last month. The investment by Charoen, who is seeking to expand his own Chang beer business in Asia, pushed Heineken into an offer for APB as it saw its position in Asia coming under threat.

The Heineken deal could prompt a breakup of F&N with Coca-Cola keeping an eye on its popular soft-drink 100PLUS, fruit juices, mineral water and dairy products unit which could be hived off from the Singapore group's property assets. That could pit Coca-Cola against two sizeable Asian brewers, Thai Beverage and Japan's Kirin Holdings, which have their own interests to protect as F&N shareholders. F&N shares have jumped 31.5 percent this year to close at S$8.15 but have come off a record S$8.49. APB shares, which last traded at S$49.50, have surged 71.9 percent since the start of the year, and the offer price of S$50 was at a 45 percent premium to month ago levels.

Singapore Sling

New York has its Manhattan, Moscow its mule and Long Island its Iced Tea. In turn, Singapore has the honour of having one of the hardest cocktails to make. Formulated at the turn of the century, the Singapore Sling was initially called the Straits Sling, and was created as a lady’s cocktail, hence its pinkish tone. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

Recipes vary, but according to the Raffles Hotel, the original consists of gin, cherry liquer, Benedictine, pomegranate juice and pineapple juice from Sarawak pineapples, to create the foamy top. However, many recent recipes use bottled juice, while adding club soda for the foam. A handwritten bar-chit by Ngiam, dated 1936, still hangs in the Raffles Hotel Museum. The “Million Dollar Cocktail” was also created by Ngiam, where it gained similar recognition after Somerset Maugham featured it in his short story, “The Letter”.

The Singapore Sling has proven so popular that bottled versions are now also available in commercial supermarkets and shops. Drinks and other Singapore Sling products can be found at the Singapore Sling boutique at Clark Quay.

Even though you might want to head down to the Long Bar and order yourself an authentic Singapore Sling while embracing the nostalgia of the Raffles Hotel, there are other bars which also do great versions of this drink. OverEasy at One Fullerton whips up an excellent Singapore Sling with a touch of Angostura Bitters, while Orgo at the Esplanade blends theirs with freshly squeezed pineapple, lime and pomegranate juice

Coffee in Singapore

Singaporeans consume more coffee per capita than any other Asians. Traditional coffee, or kopi, is strong coffee sweetened with gooey sweetened condensed milk. It is prepared by pouring pitchers of hot water through a sock-like filter filled with powdered grounds of coffee. It is served in small plastic bag and sucked with a straw and sold at local food courts, hawker stalls or local coffee shops, called kopi thiams, with rickety plastic tables and plastic stools. These days Starbuck style coffee shops, offering espressos and cappuccinos, are becoming increasingly popular.

The Kopi tiam has long been an institution in Singapore. People have traditionally gathered there not only to get some coffee but also to get a quick meal, catch up on the latest neighborhood gossip, see old friends and discuss issues of the day. Their owners served as the eyes and ears for police and fire stations. One local pical kopi tiam run by a balding middle-aged man in a white T-shirt and flip flops served 700 cups of coffee a day,

A number of Starbucks-style coffee franchises have opened up in Singapore. These include the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Café and Gloria Jean’s Coffees as well as Starbucks. A customer at one of these places told the New York Times, “Here is very high class. The kopi tiam is very low class. It is for this uncles and aunties.”

As of 2000, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Café had 32 outlets in Singapore and 21 in Malaysia and was expanding into Taiwan and the United States. At the same there were 21 Starbucks in Singapore.

Teh Tarik

Teh tarik is a hot milk tea beverage which can be commonly found in restaurants, outdoor stalls and kopi tiams in Malaysia and Singapore. According to the Singapore Tourism Board: “It is unique to Singapore in various ways—from the brand-specific condensed milk (Carnation, a Singaporean product) used for the tea, to the artful way with which the tea is tossed repeatedly (hence its name) from one mug to another to create a thick froth. Indian stallholders at the local coffee shops are always stormed with teh tarik orders, and can be caught live in action, expertly “pulling” their concoctions, which are fun and exciting to watch. [Source: yoursingapore.com,Singapore Tourism Board]

This popular beverage comes in a few guises: hot, cold, with or without milk, with or without sugar, and in recent times it has evolved to take on competing versions that have cropped up in cafes like Starbucks and the Coffee Bean; you can now find chai lattes at numerous coffeeshops which are delicious and are much cheaper too. What’s more, there is an annual teh tarik competition which is a colourful event pitting the best “tea pullers” from across the island, ensuring that Singapore’s best teh tarik providers are always on top of their game.

Smoking in Singapore

Education and strict laws have helped to keep smoking rates below 20 percent in Singapore. The number of cigarettes smoked a year increased from 2,510 in 1972 to 2,550 in 1982 and decreased to 1,610 in 1992, when Singapore ranked 45th in the world in cigarette consumption. A 20-cigarette pack of one of the most popular US brands costs S$11.00 (about US$7.00), making them among the most expensive in Asia, due mainly to the high duties aimed at discouraging smoking.

Singapore has very strict anti-smoking rules. Smoking is banned everywhere except in homes and in the open air. There is a strict ban on tobacco advertising and the sale of tobacco to minors and laws prohibiting smokers from lighting up in restaurants and entertainment outlets including pubs and nightclubs. Newspapers run graphic anti-smoking ads with colors photographs of cancerous lung tissue. In one anti-smoking campaign children were encouraged to get their parents to stop smoking.

In the mid-2000s smoking was blamed for seven deaths per day when the city-state had a local population of only 3.4 million. More women and young adults are taking up the habit, prompting the government to intensify its anti-tobacco drive.

Singapore has ratified a World Health Organization (WHO) convention designed to restrict cigarette sales. Singapore already meets the mandatory requirements of the convention, including a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Smoking is banned in all air-conditioned buildings and establishments except bars. Cigarette prices in Singapore have risen sharply as a result of stiffer duties. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 15, 2004]

Singapore Uses Gruesome Pictures on Cigarette Packs

In June 2004, AFP reported: “Singapore is to use shock tactics to scare smokers, ordering that cigarette packs sold here must carry graphic warnings including images of a cancerous lung and a brain oozing blood after a stroke. The campaign, started in August 2004, was triggered by the continuing popularity of smoking, "The pictures are real," a spokeswoman for the government's Health Promotion Board said Tuesday, June 15, when asked if the images of the diseased lung and brain were authentic, or just special effects. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 15, 2004]

Before that time only anti-smoking slogans like "smoking causes heart disease" and "smoking kills" are printed on packs, with no illustrations. The new graphics have been sent to tobacco companies with strict guidelines on how they must be printed "clearly and conspicuously" and occupy at least 50 percent of the total surface area of the package. One picture shows a hospitalized man on life support with the slogan "smoking can cause a slow painful death," while another depicts an infant breathing through a tube with the message "tobacco smoke can kill babies." Another shows a mother playing with two children while the father puffs away behind them, meant to warn of the dangers of second-hand smoke. All the warnings will carry a toll-free, multi-lingual "quitline" telephone number enabling people to get counselling to help them quit.

Smoking-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke are the top killers in Singapore. Medical care and productivity problems linked to tobacco are estimated to cost the economy an estimated half a billion US dollars annually. Richard Png, executive director of the Tobacco Association representing the cigarette companies, told AFP that the industry has no choice but to comply. "Whether it will affect sales is difficult to say, we've had no experience. In Singapore, this is something new," he said.

"New smokers may be put off, but regular smokers may not be unduly perturbed. Before the graphics came on we had text warnings and that hasn't affected (smokers). After a while they get used to it. I cannot gauge what sort of impact it will have."

Singapore Marks Cigarettes to Snuff out Illegal Sales

In 2009, Singapore put special markings on every cigarette sold legally to fight against contraband sales in the city-state, the government said. AFP reported: “From January 1 2009, every cigarette on sale will come with the letters "SDPC" stamped near the filter, Singapore Customs said. SDPC stands for Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarettes. "All unmarked cigarettes will be deemed to be duty-unpaid and illegal," the statement said. Anyone caught with an unmarked cigarette will be committing an offence and will face a fine of S$500 (US$352) for every packet found in their possession, it said. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 11, 2008]

Travellers who bought cigarettes overseas for their own consumption should keep their receipts, it added. The move to enforce the special marking also ties in with efforts to discourage smoking, it said. "The availability of cheap duty-unpaid cigarettes will hamper our national effort to discourage smoking," said Fong Yong Kian, director-general of Singapore Customs. "The marking will serve as deterrence against the peddling and buying of contraband cigarettes and help our officers in the enforcement efforts."

The Straits Times said that 2.1 million packets of contraband cigarettes were seized in the first seven months of the year, involving S$16.2 million in lost revenue for the government. Last year, 32.9 million such packets were seized resulting in S$32.9 million in lost revenues, the newspaper said.

Singapore Smokers Flout Ruling on First Day of Ban in Food Outlets

In July 2006, Channel News Asia reported: “Many were found flouting the smoking ban on the first day it took effect in food outlets. Starting 1 July, smoking is banned in 5400 food outlets. Smokers can only light up at designated corners in the premises. But at a popular coffeeshop in Ang Mo Kio, some were seen flouting the new ruling. When approached for an interview, most just walked away. But one smoker said: "I don't want to come to this coffeeshop again, there are no seats in the smokers' corner, and if I smoke elsewhere, I'll get caught." Over at the Adam Food Centre, law-abiding smokers were seen lighting up within a 'yellow box'. Some smoked just outside the compound, in the car park and near the toilets. [Source: Channel News Asia, July 2, 2006]

Non-smokers were relieved. "Second-hand smoke harms the rest of the people, so you shouldn't be bothering people and their families. So it is good to smoke elsewhere," said a non-smoker. Interestingly, some smokers Channel NewsAsia spoke to, agreed. "You find that when you eat something, if beside you, there is a smoker....feel very stink," said a smoker at a hawker centre in Queenstown.

Food outlets can choose to designate 10 to 20 percent of the space in their compound as a smokers' corner. But will this measure really solve the health problems of second-hand smoke? "There is a fan around. People smoke, the smoke will move around the whole area," said a member of the public.

Smokers found lighting up outside the smokers' corner or in smoke-free zones can be fined $200. The National Environment Agency says that it has not increased the number of officers on the ground enforcing the smoking ban. But it will do so if the situation requires it. Meanwhile another 2000 outlets have applied for smokers' corners in their premises.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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