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Mon, May 15, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Betel nut regulations proposed

TAIPEI RESTRICTIONS The provision would ban betel nut chewing in some public places and fine vendors who sell the stimulant to those under 18 years of age

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

A tough Taipei City Government betel nut provision that is guaranteed to rile some blue-collar workers, truck drivers and taxi drivers when it is passed is already getting praise from medical doctors, officials and even vendors.

The "Betel Nut Hygiene Management Autonomy Provision" (檳榔衛生管理自治條例), proposed on Oct. 11, 1999 and approved by the city government on May 9, now awaits passage by the city council. Once passed, the provision could make Taipei the island's first city to ban betel nut chewing in public.

The decree bans betel nut chewing in public places and prohibits city residents under the age of 18 from purchasing and chewing betel nuts.

Under the ordinance, betel nut chewing would be banned in such public places as schools, libraries, swimming pools, and medical institutions. The above mentioned places will display a clear and obvious warning sign which reads "chewing betel nut is forbidden here."

Violators would face a fine of somewhere between NT$1,000 and NT$3,000.

The provision would also ban children under 18 from purchasing and chewing betel nuts. Vendors caught selling betel nut to children under 18 could be fined anywhere between NT$200 and NT$15,000.

Parents or legal guardians who fail to prevent their children under the age of 18 from purchasing and chewing betel nuts could face a fine of between NT$6,000 and NT$10,000. In addition, the measure stipulates that betel nut boxes bear health warning signs as well as a printed warning that they are not to be sold to anyone under the age of 18.

Betel nuts -- favored by Taiwan's manual laborers and truck and taxi drivers who say it keeps them alert over long working days -- are a popular stimulant. The crimson stains from those who chew it can be found on city streets across the island.

The measure, however, does not cover betel nut juice spitting.

The mildly narcotic nut, usually taken with a brick-red or milky-white mix of ash and leaf, is Taiwan's second-largest cash crop.

According to the data released by the health bureau, the production volume of betel nuts in 1991 was about 110,000 tons, and the number climbed up to 160,000 tons in 1997.

Conservation and health risks

Betel nut trees are also blamed for creating water and soil conservation problems. It is also well-known that betel nut chewing is responsible for causing oral cancer, which ranked seventh among Taiwan's top 10 causes of death in 1997 and fifth in 1999, according to the Cancer Society of Taiwan (中華民國防癌協會).

A study conducted in 1995 by Ke Ying-chin (葛應欽), a public health professor at Kaohsiung Medical University (高雄醫學院), concluded that betel nut chewing, drinking and smoking combined together posed a lethal threat to the development of oral cancer.

According to the study, a person who drinks increases their chances of developing oral cancer by 10 times; a smoker's chances increase by 18 times, and a betel chewer has 28 times more of a chance of contracting oral cancer.

Those who combine all three -- smoking, drinking and betel nut chewing -- raise their chances by 123 times.

Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), director of the Health Bureau, said the ban is necessary immediately.

"If we don't face the problem and try to solve it now, we are going to pay a high price by losing thousands of lives every year," he said.

Yeh added that the country's betel nut chewing population is estimated to be 2.8 million, or about 11 percent of the entire population, and that more young people are developing the habit.

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