The tobacco health and welfare surcharge should be gradually raised, Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) told the legislature’s Health, Environment and Labor Committee meeting yesterday, starting by raising it from the current NT$10 per package to NT$20 per package on Jan. 11.
The committee reviewed three versions of the draft amendment to Article 4 and Article 35 of the Tobacco Hazards Prevention and Control Act (菸害防治法) yesterday. All three called for increases in the surcharge, though they differed in several details, including the amount of the raise and the allocation of the income from the increased surcharge.
Most of the legislators on the committee agreed with the amendment proposed by the Cabinet on Oct. 30, which calls for raising the surcharge by NT$10 and using the surcharge income to subsidize the health insurance premiums of economically disadvantaged families living in remote areas or people suffering from rare diseases.
While the members agreed on the allocation of the surcharge, just how much the surcharge should be increased was referred to cross-party negotiations.
“Ideally, [the surcharge] should be raised a bit more, but in practice, we should do this step-by-step,” Yeh said. “The surcharge will be evaluated every two years, so we will start by raising it by NT$10 and then review the plan until we gradually meet our goal.”
When asked how much that goal was, Yeh said that experts recommended NT$30 to NT$40, which he believed to be “an ideal situation.”
If the legislature approves the Cabinet-proposed amendment, the surcharge would be raised to NT$20 per package on Jan. 11.
Meanwhile, one big change is already scheduled to take effect on Jan. 11. Smoking indoors, whether in public spaces, restaurants, bars, or offices will be banned.
• No smoking in public spaces, including kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools, government agencies, financial institutions or on public transportation.
• No smoking in karaoke bars, restaurants, hotels and shopping areas, unless in a designated smoking room. Owners of such establishments must post no-smoking signs and may not provide lighters or ashtrays.
• No smoking in offices with three or more people, including in stairways and restrooms.
• Offices with three or more people may not designate a “smoking area.”
• Violators may be reported by calling 0800531531 toll-free.
SOURCE: THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
A number of smokers in the legislature voiced displeasure with the new regime, which will see violators facing fines of up to NT$10,000.
However, several female legislators, all non-smokers, applauded the prospect of cleaner air inside the Legislative Yuan.
Asked for comment, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞), a smoker, said the regulation was “too rigid.”
Lee said it was illogical for the state-run Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp to sell cigarettes while the government was trying to ban smoking.
“I will be a victim [of the new regulation] because I usually smoke during cross-party negotiation sessions,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) said.
“But I should follow the regulation. We can’t violate a law we passed. I will feel pain, though,” Pan said.
However, DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) said she had been bothered by second-hand smoke during legislative sessions.
In a rare display of interparty unity, KMT legislators Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) echoed Huang Sue-ying’s comment.
Huang Chao-shun, a six-term legislator, said she had been annoyed by second-hand smoke from her colleagues over the past decade and that she would be more than happy to report legislators who violate the new regulation.
Huang Sue-ying said DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) was one of those who smoked during cross-party negotiations.
“Our caucus whip will become healthier,” she said.