Friday, February 25, 2011

Taiwan has moved closer to becoming a smoke-free country by lowering cigarette sales by 13 percent over the past year


By Kevin Stoda, Taiwan

Taiwan is not the only country to have stiff anti-smoking laws. Nor is it alone in Asia in creating and carrying out strong anti-smoking campaigns among its populace, but Taiwan does appear—from my perspective—to have significantly reduced smoking and has created a near zero-tolerance level among many populations of the country. (I have taught in ten countries and I have never seen such a reduction in smoking anywhere in such a short period of time.)

Let me clarify. When I visited Taipei in 1992, I observed no significant difference between the smoking levels in Taipei City, Tokyo nor Hong Kong. The only country in Asia that appeared to have much restriction on smoking at that time, e.g. especially in and around its metros of subways, was, of course, Singapore. However, since 2004, both tiny Bhutan and Taiwan have been leading the way in Asia, in terms of anti-smoking campaigns, implementation of strong anti-smoking laws, and carrying out crack-downs in the popular media.

Who says that having a patriarchal government doesn’t have benefits?

Adults here in Taiwan claim that the biggest obstacle to smoking is a tax rate of 20 to 25% on cigarettes and tobacco products, but I believe the shift over the last twenty years to be more likely due to the combination of taxes, legislation, and popular campaigns against smoking (and campaigns promoting better health). For example, since I arrived to teach in Taiwan in August last year, I have been given no less than three T-shirts with “No-Smoking” printed on them to be worn at home or around the school. Likewise, this last autumn all Taiwanese schools at all grade levels had anti-smoking campaigns or, at least, offered educational programs.

“Smoking in Taiwan is regulated by the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (Taiwan). Tobacco advertising is banned, and smoking is banned in all indoor public places. Taiwan was the second Asian country to institute a smoking ban, after Bhutan, which banned the sale of cigarettes and smoking in 2005. The Government of Taiwan is planning to extend the smoking ban to cars, motorbikes and pedestrians.”
Taipei City even provides free treatment for addicted smokers. It is believed that such programs for citizens“can save each smoker NT$1,000 to NT$3,000, and they can get professional help to quit smoking.”
According to Wikipedia’s article sources, out of 23 million Taiwanese, there are approximately 5 million smokers. However, I suspect that the numbers are lower than this—as that particular article was written two years ago and the national and local campaigns continue. Moreover, visibility of cigarettes and smoking are becoming almost null through fairly draconian media rules and self-imposed political correctness campaigns run by editorialists in major newspapers.
According to one article, it is the popular Japanese-produced TV programs, which most often break the media restrictions and taboos now-outlined clearly by various Taiwanese government authorities and think tanks. The examples provided in that particular article however, were of two children’s cartoons (made in Japan)—both regularly showing smokers with cigarettes hanging from their chins or mouths.
This means that depending on the way the cigarettes or smoking are portrayed in such kids-programming, children may continue to be effected by non-Taiwanese programming, media and internet sites (as long as Taiwan does not censor such foreign-produced programming).
Meanwhile, in January of this year it was reported that the consumption of cigarettes in Taiwan had declined a further 13% over the previous 12 month period. I laud Taiwan for the success they have had in reducing smoking consumption—even if the crackdown over the past decade has been patriarchal. It is certainly to the society’s benefit, especially in terms of savings on health care costs over the next years and generations.



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