Smokers in Singapore have to adhere to strict rules as to where they’re allowed to take a puff—and indoors are absolutely off limits.
On the other hand, non-smokers dread the strong smell they have to endure every now and then in public places, as well as the health detriments that come from breathing second-hand smoke.
While national health campaigns fight a perpetual uphill battle trying to get people to quit, Singapore company Smoking Cabin SG decides to take an approach that brings harmony between the lifestyles and needs of both smokers and non-smokers.
Its Director, 40-year-old Stefen Choo, led the launch of Singapore’s first outdoor smoking cabin installed outside Fusionopolis on 21 May 2019.
Allowing up to 10 smokers to take a puff inside the comfort of an air-conditioned space (legally), the cabin filters their cigarette smoke and releases it as clean air so passers-by won’t be affected.
It’s the first of 60 cabins that Stefen and his team hope to put up all over Singapore by the end of this year.
Back in 2017, his ambitions first stemmed from his love for his two young children—his 3-year-old son and newborn daughter.
He was worried about their health when they frequently got exposed to cigarette smoke rising from their neighbours’ HDB units downstairs.
Stefen shares in an interview with us: “All along I have been looking for a solution to second-hand smoke.”
Even though he admits it’s out of his control to dictate his neighbours’ actions, he wants to work towards a larger impact.
Of course I can’t solve the problem at home because it’s related to my neighbours’ [choices], but I thought the solution could be applicable to the rest of Singapore.
Prepared For A New Challenge
Stefen had been the Director of Southern Globe Corporation since the company started in 2013.
While they operate in the trading of aviation spare parts, he’s had no qualms to take on their first project beyond this sphere.
In fact, the experience served to help him overcome new challenges in sussing out the needs to build a smoking cabin.
“Being in aviation where it’s very detailed, very step-by-step, very procedural, we have to consider many factors and many ‘what-ifs’ so the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky,” he says.
“So having all this training, moving into any business, it helps me to be more attuned to details and consider a lot of important factors.”
He Liked It, And He Put A Ring On It
The moment Stefen had chanced upon a Danish filtration system at a trade show, it instantly struck a chord with him.
In the middle of the exhibition hall, there was an indoor glass cabin, a very large glass cabin. A lot of people were inside smoking, but when I walked around the cabin, there was no smell.
Right away, he got a business card from the Danish company Smoke Solution, and requested to buy the sole distribution rights for their technology in Singapore.
“The rights required an upfront purchase of three indoor filtration units, and I took the plunge and just went for it,” Stefen says.
He gives us a little insight into how the air filter works to remove smoke:
It consists of three layers, the first being a wool filter that traps large dust particles.
The second layer is a common HEPA filter that takes away fine haze particles of 0.3 microns, similarly to the effects of an N95 mask.
Lastly, the air goes through a layer of activated carbon that removes the smell and chemicals in tobacco.
By then, 99.95% of cigarette smoke is converted into clean air, according to Smoking Cabin SG’s website.
6 Months Of R&D To Build A Prototype
The first issue that hit them was having to repurpose the filtration units they purchased from Smoke Solution.
We have strict laws against indoor smoking in Singapore, as you know. [There would be no point] to sell the indoor filtration units we bought, so we had to adapt it to outdoor use.
Among some things they had to consider were factors like “safety, heat reduction and energy efficiency”.
Over four months, Stefen and his team designed their prototype, then used the following two months to build it.
They completed it with features like fireproof ash bins, motion sensors that activate the filters when the cabin is occupied, and air conditioning that saves energy by cooling only the filtered air, not the smoke.
The prototype that now stands outside Fusionopolis cost $35,000 to produce, but Stefen says its bare essentials make up $20,000 of this.
Additional spending came from installing security cameras, temperature and air quality monitors, and a television to play videos that educate users about the cabin’s features.
Now that they’ve become familiar with production, Stefen says future units will take less time and money to build.
Better Air Than Orchard Road
In an experiment they conducted, Stefen found that the cabin’s filtered air was easily of better quality than the air along Orchard Road.
“We burned up to four cigarettes in an indoor glass cabin inside our office, then measured the quality of the filtered air just outside it,” he says.
The highest (ie. worst) readings of PM 2.5 and PM 10 particles in the filtered air from his test cabin were 10 and 16 respectively.
In comparison, the lowest readings he recorded when he walked down Orchard Road were 11 and 17.
At their highest, they rose close to 100 and 150 on other parts of Orchard Road, or in the hundreds within designated smoking areas.
Despite great results, users who tested Smoking Cabin SG’s prototype have found certain aspects lacking, such as its ventilation.
Not discouraged by negative feedback, Stefen shares that his next step will be to move air suction points from the wall of the cabin and place them overhead instead, to whisk away smoke much quicker.
“The first cabin is a really good prototype for us, so it’s the basis of all our improvements,” he quips.
How To Get A Smoking Cabin For Your Building
In just the first 10 days of operation, Stefen collected and counted 1,150 cigarettes from the cabin’s ash bins.
“We have gotten about 300 entries from people who want to discuss the possibility of having a smoking cabin at their building so far,” says Stefen.
Smoking Cabin SG is calling for mall operators and building owners to join them in removing second-hand smoke for “better public health”, and making their premises more family-friendly or worker-friendly.
Building operators can rent a cabin, while Smoking Cabin SG will secure the licenses needed for deployment, and take care of maintenance in the future.
“If the cabin is placed at a high-traffic location and our advertisement partner accepts, the advertisement revenue can subsidise rental, even to the point that it may become free,” Stefen adds.
Smoking Cabin SG is hoping to find their first five building partners by the end of July, which will also be featured by the company.
Interested parties can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
Featured Image Credit: Smoking Cabin SG, Malay Mail