A pro-smoker group and labor union representatives yesterday said the government may have been misappropriating and squandering money raised through the tobacco health and welfare surcharge on cigarette sales.
Led by Taiwan Nicotianaspp Association for Human Rights, the coalition said that of the NT$200 billion (NT$6.65 billion) made from the surcharge over the past 10 years, only NT$6.4 billion has gone toward smoking prevention and health promotion.
Citing data from the 2011 subsidy funding applications made under the surcharge, only six of the 19 applications were related for the intended objective.
“Many receipients of the subsidy were engaged in unusual and divergent projects, such as playing basketball, biking, street dancing and food festivals,” Chu Cheng-chi (朱政騏), chairman of the pro-smoker association, told a press conference in Taipei.
“The Bureau of Health Promotion has been extravagantly wasteful with the fund. No wonder the tobacco surcharge keeps rising,” Chu said. “Where did the rest of the money go?”
“There is a mandate to review the surcharge every two years. However, there is no scrutiny from outside or transparency on how the money is being spent. The public is getting angry about the misuse of the fund,” Chu said. “We thereby request legislators and members of the Control Yuan to open their eyes and investigate this closely.”
Chu said that organizations applying for subsidies are the ones that have actively supported the increase in the surcharge, such as the John Tung Foundation and medical groups. This would appear to be a conflict of interest, he said.
Chu’s association was joined at the press conference by representatives from the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp Federation Union (TTLCFU), the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions and other labor unions, who voiced their opposition against the proposed hike in the tobacco surcharge.
TTLCFU chairman Chao Ming-yuan (趙銘圓) said the bureau has claimed that a hike in the surcharge is needed to pay for National Health Insurance (NHI) costs for smokers.
However, smokers already contribute to the NHI and pay the tobacco surcharge, he said.
“It’s a double whammy. Smokers are being billed twice,” he said.
Tsai Kui-hua (蔡桂華), president of the Land Bank of Taiwan trade union, said the tobacco surcharge has collected about NT$200 billion in a decade, which is about the same as the fund for laborers, but the money is being wasted and misused by the Department of Health. He said he would ask the Control Yuan to look into the matter.
On Thursday last week, the Cabinet approved raising the health and welfare surcharge per pack of cigarettes from NT$20 to NT$40, and increasing the tax on cigarettes from NT$11.8 per pack to NT$16.8, under the amendments to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法) and the Tobacco and Liquor Tax Act (菸酒稅法).
Additional reporting by staff writer