Public attitudes toward smoking have changed significantly in the decade since the Tobacco Hazard Prevention Act (菸害防制法) came into effect in 1997. To reflect changes in social and international trends, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) ratified and signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on March 30, 2005, and on April 27 of the same year a draft amendment to the Tobacco Hazard Prevention Act was sent to the legislature for review.
On June 15 this year, after three consecutive legislative sessions, the amendment finally passed the third legislative reading. The amendment was finally passed at the last moment in the recently concluded legislative session.
The amendment focused on written and graphic health warning labels, banning all tobacco advertisements, restricts the way shops display tobacco products and prohibits smoking in indoor public places. Taking Taiwan's social conditions into consideration, six rounds of legislative negotiation defied the wishes of the Department of Health (DOH) to ban smoking in all public places and tighten controls on the sale and management of tobacco products.
Still, the new measures follow the suggestions in the WHO framework convention, which should be an important sign to the international community. With it, we also enter a new era in public health protection.
With many of the measures set to be implemented in 18 months from now, the health department plans to initiate an information drive geared toward both businesses and consumers.
The department aims to communicate with businesses about concrete implementation methods related to the sale and management of tobacco products. Regarding the reduction of smoking in public places, the department will, in addition to disseminating information, beef up law enforcement and consultation.
The department will also cooperate with the ministries of education and national defense and the Council of Labor Affairs to reduce the number of smokers in all professions and ethnic groups, as well as provide services to help people stop smoking.
The DOH believes that businesses and consumers should follow the new measures even before they come into effect next year. They should use the transition period to get used to and abide by the new measures. Meanwhile, the department will promote the new measures and work with local health agencies to remind businesses and consumers to obey the law.
Reducing the hazards tobacco consumption pose to human health is the most effective and beneficial investment that can be made in public health. Consequently the DOH urges the public to cooperate in the effort to build a non-smoking Taiwan.
Wang Hsiu-hung is the deputy minister of the Department of Health.
translated by Eddy Chang