E-cigarettes have grown increasingly popular in recent years. There was an initial hope that vaping would reduce smokers’ exposure to the toxic and carcinogenic substances found in conventional cigarettes. Now, it appears the reverse is true: E-cigarettes might not be any less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been linked to thousands of cases of lung damage and even deaths. As a result, there have been repeated calls from members of Taiwan’s medical profession and anti-smoking groups to ban vaping.
Responding to concerns, several years ago, the Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed amendments to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法), but these proposals received scant attention within the legislature.
Last month, the New Taipei City Government drew up self-governance regulations on e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products, with the intention of introducing localized controls in the city as the precursor to a nationwide law.
However, rolling out the law in such a piecemeal fashion will not safeguard public health.
E-cigarettes are comprised of a heating element that vaporizes a liquid solution, called an “e-liquid,” containing a combination of nicotine and formaldehyde or cannabis, among other substances.
Medical studies have shown that the aerosol, or vapor, inhaled by users of e-cigarettes is harmful to their health.
As soon as a body of evidence begins to emerge which points toward a new public health threat, it is incumbent upon legislators to take action to protect the public.
The number of specialist e-cigarette shops is increasing, and legislators must act now by amending the law before it is too late to stave off an impending health crisis. If they fail to do so, they will be criticized later for sleeping at the wheel.
A government is entitled to take action only if the law empowers it to do so, and depriving or restricting the public’s right to an existing freedom could only be justified if there is an applicable statutory regulation in place. Any ban on e-cigarettes must therefore be done according to the law.
With the presidential and legislative elections nearly upon us, the Legislative Yuan will soon head into recess. As a result, any bills currently making their way through the legislature and have yet to pass their third reading, will be shelved, meaning that draft amendments to the act must be reintroduced at the start of the next legislative session — a delay of at least another six months.
During this transition period, finding a way to control the sale and use of e-cigarettes under existing laws should be a priority for the government.
Under the Pharmaceuticals Affairs Act (藥事法), the Ministry of Health and Welfare has the authority to investigate anyone involved in the manufacture, import and sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes in the same way as counterfeit medicine or narcotics. Suppliers of e-cigarettes without a pharmaceutical license could also be investigated.
Under the Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法), it is illegal for children and minors to use narcotics, restricted medicines or other substances that cause harm to physical or mental health. The ministry should immediately classify e-cigarettes as such substances and issue a ruling.
In addition, the majority of brick-and-mortar stores selling e-cigarettes and vaping products are not registered for tax purposes. The Ministry of Finance should clamp down on these shops using the Value-added and Non-value-added Business Tax Act (加值型及非加值型營業稅法).
The Ministry of Economic Affairs could also take action using powers granted under the Commodity Labeling Act (商品標示法) to open an investigation into the labeling of e-cigarettes, focusing on products that are not marked as hazardous to health or fail to fully document all of the ingredients and chemicals contained within.
E-cigarettes are a health crisis waiting to happen. As a matter of urgency, the Executive Yuan must consult with the relevant government departments to ensure that all existing laws are brought into play to crack down on the e-cigarette menace.
Lo Chuan-hsien is an adjunct professor of law at Central Police University and a former director-general of the Legislative Yuan’s Legislative Bureau.
Translated by Edward Jones
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