A group advocating smokers’ rights yesterday said the Department of Health’s (DOH) plans to increase the “health” surcharge on cigarettes would discriminate against the poor.
The plan is biased against the poor because 80 percent of Taiwan’s 4 million smokers are blue-collar workers, said Chu Cheng-chi (朱政騏), chairman of the Taiwan Nicotianaspp [sic] Association for Human Rights.
Increasing the surcharge on tobacco is not a miracle cure for the national health insurance system’s financial ailments and the department should listen to smokers’ opinions, Chu said.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) last week suggested that the surcharge could be increased by NT$20 per pack of cigarettes. The department has said the amount has not been finalized.
National Taiwan University economics professor Kenneth Lin (林向愷) backed the group’s concerns, suggesting the department was making the move simply because of the national health insurance system’s financial woes and was using the economically disadvantaged as a scapegoat.
Huang Shih-shin (黃世鑫), an adjunct professor in National Taipei University’s Department of Public Finance, said increasing the surcharge during an economic downturn, when people tend to smoke more, only added to the discrimination against the poor, who have trouble affording cigarettes.
However, Bureau of Health Promotion Director-General Chiou Shu-ti (邱淑媞) said history shows surcharge increases reduce smoking rates among the poor and protect them from the harmful effects of tobacco
She said that since the smoking ban was expanded in 2008 and the cigarette surcharge was increased from NT$10 to NT$20 in 2009, the smoking rate for men in the 18 to 39 age bracket who graduated from junior-high school or below has fallen by 10 percentage points, from 70.7 percent in 2008 to 60.7 percent last year.