Opponents of a stricter Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法) were fuming yesterday at proposed amendments that would ban smoking in all public places in addition to raising the cigarette sales tax. They called for a public hearing to be held before the amendments are reviewed again.
“The revisions … will affect the lives of more than 4 million smokers and more than 100,000 retailers of tobacco, therefore it should be done more cautiously,” Chao Ming-yuan (趙銘圓), chairman of the Confederation of Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation Unions, told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.
“We are here to urge a more cautious legislative process that includes smokers, non-smokers and people in related industries,” Chao said.
The John Tung Foundation has sought to ban smoking in most public places, including parks and beaches, increase cigarette taxes, prohibit shops from displaying cigarettes and require cigarette manufacturers to minimize slogans while enlarging the size of warning texts and pictures on cigarette packs.
Chao said the foundation should not use its charitable image to force lawmakers to support the amendments.
“This is not how we do things in a democracy,” Chao said.
National Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Mike Jen (任睦杉) said raising cigarette taxes would not prevent people from smoking and would only succeed in adding to the burden of workers, most of whom regard smoking as the only way to relax after work.
“A lot of workers get paid only NT$20,000 a month. They can’t afford to play golf like many big bosses do and now you’re trying to take more money out of their pockets for their only way to relax,” Jen said. “I assure you, when you raise cigarette prices, it wouldn’t stop people from smoking, it will only lead to more people smuggling in cigarettes.”
Tobacco Human Rights Association secretary-general Chen Shao-ting (陳紹庭) told the Taipei Times by telephone that the amendments would strip smokers of their rights, even if smoking remained legal.
“It’s unfair to ban smoking in parks and on beaches while not creating legal smoking areas at the same time,” Chen said.
The amendments also seek to penalize employers as well as employees with fines if a guest smokes in an indoor public space, which is “unbelievable,” Chen said.
“For example, if you smoke in a coffee shop, then not only the owner of the shop could be fined between NT$2,000 and NT$10,000, the part-time server working at the shop could also be fined for the same amount,” Chen said. “This is like back in the Martial Law era when people were locked up for failing to report a communist spy.”
The controversial amendments, which have passed initial review, are scheduled for further review in the legislature today.