To help curb the illegal sale of cigarettes, the government is planning to introduce a registration system for cigarette vendors around the country.
“There is hardly any other country in which it is easier to get cigarettes than in Taiwan,” National Treasury Administration Director-General Joanne Ling (凌忠嫄) said.
Cigarettes can be purchased at convenience stores and roadside stalls nationwide. Anybody can set up a table anywhere and sell them.
The ubiquity of roadside stalls means it is next to impossible to ban the sale of cigarettes to minors. It also means that cigarettes are being smuggled into the country in high volumes without being subject to import duties or excise taxes, the agency said.
However, all that is expected to change now that the Ministry of Finance — following a consensus with local governments — is drafting amendments that will make registration a requirement for cigarette vendors.
The amendments, which will soon be submitted to the Executive Yuan and then to the Legislative Yuan for approval, will prohibit unregistered stalls — set up primarily to sell betel nuts to passing motorists — from also selling cigarettes.
Once the measure takes effect, only shops with a business registration certificate and approval to sell cigarettes will be allowed to engage in the business.
The amended law will be enforced by local inspectors to crack down on the illegal sale of cigarettes, reduce smuggling and prevent an erosion of the tax base.
It is also expected to help cut the sale of cigarettes to people under the age of 18, the minimum legal age for buying tobacco in Taiwan.
However, the nation’s biggest cigarette distributor was skeptical that the revised law could be effectively enforced.
JTI Taiwan Corp said there are about 55,000 grocery stores and betel nut stalls in Taiwan, making it very difficult for the limited number of inspectors to crack down on violators.