Wed, Apr 18, 2012 - Page 2 News List

Stores may be asked to lock up charcoal

SUICIDE WATCH:After a plan to have charcoal buyers register first failed, health officials think that locking it up may discourage more suicides by burning charcoal

Staff writer, with CNA

The Department of Health (DOH) is considering asking retailers to lock up charcoal sold in their stores to prevent people with suicidal tendencies from getting their hands on it.

A recent study by the department found that the most common suicide methods in the country were hanging, burning charcoal indoors and drinking pesticide, said Wang Tsung-hsi (王宗曦), deputy director of the department’s Bureau of Medical Affairs.

Although the number of deaths from suicide fell from 4,400 in 2006 to 3,417 last year, about two-thirds of them were caused by hanging or carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal in a closed space, Wang said.

The study also found that burning charcoal was the method of choice to take one’s life in urban areas in the north, while ingesting pesticide was more common in rural areas in the south because it is more readily available, Wang said.

The idea of locking up charcoal in stores was inspired by Hong Kong, where the government tried the idea first in Tuen Mun District and it lowered the number of suicide deaths by half, he said.

The same idea may be applied to pesticides, he added.

The department plans to require that pesticide manufacturers set aside NT$1 for every kilogram of product sold to finance the production of storage containers with locks.

The containers will be given to farmers to store their pesticides, preventing others from getting their hands on the potentially deadly chemicals, Wang said.

Medical Affairs Bureau Director Shih Chung-liang (石崇良) urged store clerks to watch out for people who only purchase charcoal.

The government has shown renewed concern over the issue after a family of four were found dead in their home in Shulin District (樹林), New Taipei City (新北市), after using charcoal to take their lives. The parents apparently killed themselves and their children because of their inability to pay off their debts, police said.

New Taipei City recorded 548 suicides last year, 30 percent of which were from charcoal burning, the municipality’s health department said.

The DOH had planned to require registration of charcoal purchases, but dropped the idea after it drew heavy public criticism, officials said.

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