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December 15th, 2008:

China Tax Call To Cut Smoking Toll

Andrew Jack in London – Financial Times – December 15 2008

Doubling taxes on cigarettes would help sharply cut China’s rising annual toll of more than 1m deaths from smoking while boosting government revenues, according to a study to be presented in Beijing today.

Increasing tobacco taxes from as little as 32 per cent currently towards the international average of 70 per cent would save significant medical costs while having a minimal impact on employment, it concludes.

The work will be launched at a conference attended by senior Chinese finance and public health officials, as internal and international pressure grows for the country to follow others in taking more aggressive measures to tackle smoking, the leading cause of death in China.

It comes at a time of continuing rapid growth in smoking in China, where 300m smokers now consume an estimated two trillion cigarettes a year, or a third of the global total, creating long-term health problems for themselves and passive inhalers.

The analysis argues that cigarettes further impoverish China’s rural poor, absorbing 10 per cent of total smoking households’ annual expenditure as well as imposing heavy medical burdens. A sharp drop in the real price of cigarettes over the past decade has turned many more Chinese into regular smokers.

The research was commissioned with funding from the $500m pledged last summer from the philanthropic activities of Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and Bill Gates, the joint founder of Microsoft, who joined forces in redoubled efforts to help low and middle income countries tackle disease by strengthening tobacco control.

It calls for China to increase cigarette taxes to 65 per cent – from current rates of 32-45 per cent – which it estimates would generate $15bn a year in revenues and help limit tobacco-related health costs which it forecasts will otherwise reach 10 per cent of healthcare costs within a few years.

Mr Bloomberg, founder of the financial news agency, launched the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use in 2005, which has supported work including efforts to assess countries’ compliance with the World Health Organisation’s recommended policies to tackle smoking, including higher taxes, a ban on advertising and health warnings.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has until now focused its health activities on fighting infectious diseases, but this year unveiled a $125m, five-year anti-smoking programme, including an initial $24m two-year grant to the Bloomberg Initiative, in recognition of other important health problems in the developing world.

Anti-smoking Legislation To Come Into Effect – Taiwan

15 Dec 2008.

A smoking ban in indoor and public areas will come into effect from 11 January 2009.

The new Tobacco Hazard Prevention Act will also ban smoking in indoor working areas with over three people. Smokers who smoke on stairs, kitchens, or restrooms will be fined. A smoking room with separate air conditioning can be installed by hotels, restaurants and malls. Smoking will also be prohibited in outdoor areas of gyms, college campuses, as well as cultural and social organisations. Violators can be fined TWD 2,000 (EUR 45) to TWD 10,000.

Chao Kun-yu, deputy director-general of the bureau of health promotion of the ministry of health, said that the bureau would place promotional leaflets on the smoking ban in four major convenience store chains beginning 1 December.

Chao said that the definition of outdoor areas would be left to local governing authorities. He also reminded that a non-smoking sign should be put up at the entrance of every smoke free place and ashtrays should not be provided. Owners who do not put up signs will be fined. (pi)