Civil organizations urge gov’t to step up tobacco control regulations

NGOs urge Taiwanese government to upgrade Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act to catch up with the times

A burning cigarette. (Photo courtesy from pixabay)

A burning cigarette. (Photo courtesy from pixabay)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—More than 72 civil organizations in Taiwan submitted a petition to lawmakers to update the decade-old Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act ahead of the World No Tobacco Month in May, following latest international studies indicating a rise in smoking related deaths at a press conference on Wednesday.

Lastest studies by Global Burden of Disease report conducted by The Lancet from 1995-2015, showed growing trends of smoking related deaths, such as heart diseases, tuberculosis, oral cancer, lung cancer, and others.

Smoking related deaths claimed lives of 6.4 million people in 2015, amounting to 11.5 percent of total global deaths that year, according to the report.

Data collected by The Lancet, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and University of Washington on Taiwanese smoking population in 2015. (Photo courtesy of The Lancet)

The study surveyed 195 countries from 1990 to 2015, and was written by more than 200 experts that collected more than 2,818 related research papers, said head of tobacco control division at JTF Lin Ching-li (林清麗).

More than 24,000 people die from smoking related diseases annually in Taiwan, but the nation’s Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act has not been updated in 10 years, she added.

Multi-national tobacco companies have been launching innovative cigarette products over the last 10 years to develop new consumer markets, such as entry of flavored e-cigarettes on the market that can even change flavor with a simple click of a button, said Huang Song-lih (黃嵩立), secretary-general of Taiwan International Medical Alliance (TIMA).

All these new product strategies by tobacco companies are aimed at concealing the health hazards of smoking, while attracting young women that used to be in the minority of smokers to join in, he added.

Taiwan has not amended its Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act in compliance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Up to 72 civil organizations including JTF, TIMA, Taiwan Medical Alliance for the Control of Tobacco, Consumers Foundation, Chinese Taipei, and Formosa Cancer Foundation and others submitted seven amendments to lawmakers to introduce into the existing Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act before the World No Tobacco Day on May, 31, 2017.

Highlights of the suggested amendments according to CFCT Chairman Yu Kai-hsiung (游開雄) include:

  1. Banning smoking in public indoor areas and work environments.
  2. Increasing the size of health hazard warnings from the current 35 percent to 85 percent on cigarette packages.
  3. Banning tobacco companies from displaying their names openly at sponsored events, and fining companies that violate this regulation. Propose lawmakers to introduce new penalties on tobacco company promotions through sponsored events.
  4. Banning flavored e-cigarettes that can be harmful for young people.
  5. E-cigarettes to be included into Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act.
  6. Legal age for smoking to be raised to 21 years-old.
  7. Draft bills that ban tobacco companies from interfering in tobacco hazard prevention policies.

The suggestions were made by organizations after Taiwan received a mediocre score of 69 points out of a full score of 100 in an evaluation conducted by Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) in 2013 based on six criteria, including the nation's non-smoking environment, health hazard warning signs printed on cigarette packages, cigarette prices, and more.

EU evaluations found tax levied on tobacco products in Taiwan amounted to only 47.6 percent of the product price, lower than World Health Organization's recommended 70 percent.

In addition, Taiwan ranked in the last six places globally for the size of smoking hazard warning signs on cigarette packages, which typically only takes up 35 percent of the package area, indicating there is large room for further improvements, noted experts.