Supporters and opponents of a stricter smoking ban rallied at the legislature in Taipei yesterday as Department of Health officials briefed lawmakers about proposed amendments to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法).
“Taiwan is a democracy and the rights [of everyone] should be protected,” Tobacco Human Rights Association of Taiwan -secretary-general Chen Shao-ting (陳紹庭) said at a demonstration. “We try to copy other countries that have strict smoking bans, but somehow we are not creating smoking areas for smokers like many countries that ban smoking in public places do.”
He also accused lawmakers of launching the legislative process without holding public hearings first.
“It’s a person’s free choice to smoke or not smoke, and the government should not intervene,” Chen said. “The statement may provide sufficient information to the public about a habit that may be unhealthy but legal, so that the people can make better choices, but the government has no business in altering people’s lifestyle with laws.”
The John Tung Foundation, a non-governmental organization that has been very active in lobbying for regulations on smoking, visited lawmakers in the morning and invited people with diseases caused by smoking to tell the public how harmful smoking can be.
While some legislators, such as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Lin-chun (江玲君), voiced their support for a stricter ban, other lawmakers, including the KMT’s Chen Chieh (陳杰) and the DPP’s Lie Kuen-cheng (賴坤成), sided with opponents of the proposed amendments.
“We smokers do not steal or rob, we pay all taxes just like everybody else — why can’t we get some places to smoke?” Lie asked. “We know not to smoke in some places because we respect non-smokers, but we also deserve the same degree of respect from non-smokers.”
One of the reasons that the service ranking at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport kept dropping was because some travelers -complained in the service survey about the absence of smoking areas in the airport, which are common in airports in other countries, he said.
“I’ve also received complaints from hotel operators since smoking was completely prohibited in hotels,” Lie said. “They told me they are willing to create smoking and non-smoking floors to cater to the needs of different guests, but the current law is not allowing them to do so.”
Demonstrators burst into laughter when he ended his talk by saying: “I don’t want to talk anymore, just give me a cigarette.”