Cigarette surchage discriminates against the poor: smokers' group
CNATAIPEI--A civic group advocating smokers' rights charged Friday that recent plans by the Department of Health (DOH) to increase the “health” surcharge on cigarettes would discriminate against the poor.
August 18, 2012, 12:40 am TWN
The plan is biased against the poor because 80 percent of Taiwan's 4 million smokers are blue collar workers, said Chu Cheng-chi, the chairman of the Taiwan Human Rights Association for Tobacco Use (THRAT).
Increasing the surcharge on tobacco is not a miracle drug for the national health insurance system's financial ailments, and the DOH should listen to smokers' opinions, Chu said.
Chu was responding to the plan announced by Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta on Aug. 11. Chiu suggested that the surcharge could be increased by NT$20 per pack of cigarettes, but the DOH has stressed that the amount has not been finalized.
National Taiwan University economics professor Kenneth Lin backed the civic group's concerns, suggesting that the DOH was making the move simply because of the financial woes of the national health insurance system and was using the economically disadvantaged as a scapegoat.
Huang Shin-hsin, an adjunct professor with 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.
Chiou Shu-ti, the director-general of the DOH's Bureau of Health Promotion, disagreed, however, saying that based on past history, a surcharge increase would reduce smoking rates among the poor and protect them from tobacco's harmful effects.
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 18-39 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 in 2011.
Chiou cited data for that specific age bracket because it has the highest smoking rate in Taiwan.
Getting poorer smokers off cigarettes was important, Chiou said, because when they fall ill from smoking related diseases they only descend into greater poverty, sending their children into the same cycle and creating inherited social and health inequalities.
Describing higher cigarette prices as the best anti-smoking policy, Chiou said that 70 percent of the revenue from the surcharge goes to the national health insurance system and that more of it will go to help nicotine addicts quit smoking in the future.