Sun, Jun 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Reduce use of tobacco for the good of the public

By Han Bo-cheng

Most Taiwanese are pretty familiar with the ubiquitous slogans and catchphrases directed at promoting a healthy lifestyle and diet. Yet cases of substandard food, poisoned drinks and the emission of carcinogenic fumes abound.

Recently, the call for revisions to strengthen the Tobacco Control Act (煙害防治法) has become a topic of heated discussion in the legislature.

It saddens me to see colleagues break out in a rash when they are exposed to tobacco residue while staying in a five-star hotel, or suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Public spaces filled with smoke and stinking of stale tobacco often give rise to a wave of complaints.

May 31 was World No Tobacco Day, and the World Health Organization's (WHO) international anti-smoking campaign focused on urging health professionals to actively engage in the fight against tobacco.

Some people actually stand up for the right to use a substance that contains four thousand kinds of harmful chemicals and 43 carcinogens, claims more than 10,000 lives per year in Taiwan and shortens its user's lifespan by an average of 10 years.

This makes one think of Premier Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) comments about "coexistence and understanding," which he used in reference to the ideal relations between Taiwan's feuding political parties.

In biological terms, coexistence can take two different forms. It can be a symbiotic relationship in which both sides benefit.

But it can also be a parasitic relationship in which only one side benefits, but the other side does not feel inconvenienced.

In the political world, coexistence is about the hope that social groups with different interests and goals can live in harmony and respect each other.

But Taiwan's political environment is unlikely to change in the short term and "coexistence" between smokers and non-smokers is even less realistic.

In fact, less that 50 percent of Taiwanese men and only 3 percent to 4 percent of women smoke. Despite this, we all become passive smokers in public places, in the workplace and even in the home.

Passive smoking is not only a health hazard for women and children, it's also a nuisance for all non-smokers.

In Taiwan, the number of people who die of lung cancer increases every year. This has compelled us to face up to the rising threat that smokers pose to nonsmokers.

The spirit of coexistence is to be respectful and understanding of others.

Actions that cause displeasure to others should be avoided. In recent years, the government's push to eliminate or minimize smoking in households, workplaces, schools and restaurants has won wide approval.

In its goal of creating smoke-free environments, the government should set an example by banning smoking in government agencies and public places.

Furthermore, government officials should refrain from smoking, as a model for the public.

Such efforts to reduce the harm and discomfort that smokers inflict on nonsmokers and the public environment would go a long way toward creating a harmonious society.

Even as our politicians strive for a more harmonious political environment, we should also make society at large more tolerant. The creation of smoke-free environments is the foundation on which co-existence can be built.

Han Bo-cheng is the director of the School of Public Health at Taipei Medical University.

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