Opium Smoking


Chia Sherng Tan
Chia Sherng Tan

This is an Opium pot from my family's collection of opium pots. Opium smoking was very popular in the late 80s and early 90s.  Back then, Opium  was a popular trade and industry that was contributed to 49% of Singapore's annual revenue! Opium was first harvested for the purpose of subduing illness ranging from conjunctivitis to even illnesses such as Hypertension. However, some people abused this drug, and harvested it for the purpose of personal consumption and personal gain. Opium smoking was first introduced to Singapore in the late 1800s, by Chinese settlers. Singaporeans than adopted the practice of Opium smoking from these settlers. In 1848, the majority of Singapore's population were made up of the Chinese, with over 20000 people. However, the practice of smoking opium rapidly spread and was quickly accepted as a social norm by Singaporeans, with over three in four Chinese adults smoking opium. These opium addicts mainly consisted of Chinese coolies, the poor, and the elderly. However, the crime rate in Singapore quickly escalated with the growth of Opium smoking., with more reported cases of stealing, by those who had wished to suppress their personal desires.At that point in time, the government, accepted and acknowledged that the practice of smoking opium was disruptive and destructive on people's personal well-being and financial status. Opium dens than quickly followed suit, keeping up with the growing popularity of Opium smoking. Opium dens cropped up in areas such as Chinatown, Tanjong Pagar, and even areas around Rochor road. The Government then realized it could not afford to abolish such a large trade, a trade that was feeding the majority of our annual growth! Instead, the government took a different stand on this matter and supported and stimulated the growth of Opium by selling opium to wealthy Chinese businessmen.  However, the government also realized that the practice of smoking opium was also destructing and disrupting the social well being and financial status of people. Thus, in 1907, the government set up an opium commission to asses the damage that opium had caused to people's lives. Singaporeans also took a stand on his matter, launching a movement to curb opium smoking. The government  setup a law, prohibiting people under 21 to posses or purchase opium. licenses and registration was made compulsory. The sale of Opium was also rationed . IN 1929, Chen Su lan set up an Anti-opium clinic to aid in the curbing of opium addiction.Finally, in 1934, opium possession for people without medical reasons was banned.  In 1942 came the second world war,the number of  opium smokers rose to a high of 30000, form 16500 in 1941. November 10, 1943, the sales of Opium was finally banned. IN 1989, the government enforced a new law of the death penalty to drug manufactures and traffickers. in 1998, only 40 people were arrested for opium addiction, comprising of only less than 1% of total drug addicts in Singapore. Singapore has progressed far, from the days of opium, to finally abolishing the practice of smoking opium. We should be proud as Singaporeans to have been one of the few countries  to curb and abolish that practice in such a short time! I hope you feel as proud as I am, to be Singaporean!