Betel nut should be regulated and its use discouraged, advocates and lawmakers said yesterday, as they urged an end to decades of government inaction on an issue that contributes to thousands of deaths every year.
To mark Betel Nut Prevention Day today, the Taiwan Alliance for Areca Nut Control and Oral Cancer Prevention convened a news conference highlighting its dangers and calling for a dedicated law governing the narcotic.
Australia, the US and Turkey control betel nut as a drug to different extents, but Taiwan classifies it as a fruit product, alliance vice chair Shu Ching-hsien (舒靜嫻) said.
It is becoming a greater part of youth culture as the average age of users drops, she said.
Yet betel nut is also a major risk factor in oral cancer, with numbers that continue to worsen, National Dong Hwa University professor Lee Ming-shinn (李明憲) said.
Deaths from oral cancer have climbed steadily, from 2,936 in 2016 to 3,380 last year, for a total of 15,862 during the five-year period, Lee said.
Despite these concerning figures, the government has continued to turn a blind eye and refuses to regulate the substance, he added.
The government in 2019 said that its policy against regulation was no longer tenable, but no action has since been taken, alliance chairman Hahn Liang-jiunn (韓良俊) said.
A petition calling for a “betel nut health hazard prevention act” launched by the alliance already has the support of 94 health experts and 17 organizations, he said.
The legislative caucuses of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and the New Power Party have also vowed support, he said, adding that a meeting has been scheduled with the Democratic Progressive Party caucus.
TPP Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如) called for stronger discouragement of the use of betel nut, considering its addictive nature and association with oral cancer.
Most betel nut chewers are blue-collar workers who as their families’ main breadwinners, Tsai said.
If they fall ill, their entire family could sink into economic hardship, she added.
Tsai also raised concerns about betel nut being imported in greater amounts after joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, making the control of the betel nut problem more difficult without regulation.
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