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August 15th, 2015:

Subsidies for tobacco factory are illegal: foundation

By Abraham Gerber / Staff reporter

Construction of a new tobacco factory in Tainan should be halted, civic groups said yesterday, accusing the central government of approving illegal subsidies.

Activists from the anti-smoking John Tung Foundation gathered outside the Executive Yuan to call for a comprehensive ban on the construction of new factories by international tobacco firms, demanding that the central government withdraw approval of the Japan Tobacco Inc factory under construction in Tainan.

“From the central government’s hasty approval to the local government’s ‘joyful’ cooperation, the Tainan factory is an extremely obvious example of inappropriate and illegal executive measures,” Soochow University law professor and foundation chief executive officer Yau Sea-wain (姚思遠) said.

“The Statute for Investment by Foreign Nationals (外國人投資條例) clearly states that international firms are forbidden from investing in industries harmful to citizens’ health. Despite this, the Executive Yuan has chosen to label tobacco factories as ‘restricted,’ meaning they can still be built after passing review,” he said.

Yau added that the benefits enjoyed by Japan Tobacco Inc as a “foreign investor” are in violation of the spirit of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Taiwan has ratified.

The convention’s guidelines forbid governments from providing any benefits or other support to tobacco firms.

The foundation’s tobacco control division director Lin Ching-li (林清麗) said that as a foreign investor, Japan Tobacco would be entitled to exemptions from land, house and business taxes for two to five years.

By selling cigarettes produced domestically, the firm would also be able to avoid an estimated NT$2.8 billion (US$86.5 million) in customs duties annually, she said, estimating the firm would be able to cut prices for a pack of cigarettes by at least NT$5.

She said that the foundation organized yesterday’s protest due to rumors the government was in the process of approving another factory.

The opaque approval process for foreign investment prevented the group from confirming the rumors, she said, adding that the foundation only became aware of the Tainan factory plans after they were already approved.

Japan Tobacco commands a 30 percent share of the national cigarette market, second only to state-owned Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp.

The Tainan factory is to be the second built in the nation by a foreign firm, following the construction of an Imperial Tobacco factory in Miaoli County in 2009.

Activists also called for the government to divest itself from Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor to ensure it objectively enforces tobacco regulations.


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Ethiopia implements smoking ban

MEKELLE – The bars and cafes are full and lively in the northern Ethiopian town of Mekelle — but they are no longer smoke-filled, with the strict implementation of a smoking ban in public places.

“It’s a good thing,” said Hiriti, the owner of a small bar in a busy street. “Of course, some customers are not happy, but it also depends on the way you tell them not to smoke.

“I tell them it is not only about the law. It is also about your health,” he said. “They react better if you tell them that way.”

The town of Mekelle is bucking the trend in Africa where tobacco use is increasing driven by companies that see a growing market on the continent amid a tightening of smoking laws elsewhere.

Tobacco consumption in Africa — excluding South Africa — increased by almost 70 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. The number of African smokers could grow by 40 percent by 2030, the study predicted.

Ethiopia is not the first country to impose a ban, but is one of the few to act on the law. Kenya’s capital Nairobi has designated smoking cabins, with smoking on the street illegal, although the rule is widely flouted.

Men relax at a bar in Mekelle. The bars and cafes are no longer smoke-filled.

Men relax at a bar in Mekelle. The bars and cafes are no longer smoke-filled.

Several African countries have a complete ban on smoking in public — most recently, Uganda passed a law banning smoking within 50 metres (160 feet) of any public place — according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), but such laws are rarely implemented.

Nearly 80 percent of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low and middle-income countries, “where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest”, according to the WHO, which estimates that 600,000 people die worldwide each year from the effects of second-hand smoke.

‘People really stopped’

In Ethiopia, parliament passed a law banning smoking in public places in 2014 and Mekelle is the first city to implement it.

The town of some 200,000 people is the state capital of the far northern Tigray region. Since January smoking has been banned in cafes, restaurants, schools and hospitals, as well as cultural, sports and religious centres.

Those who break the ban face a fine of 1,000 Ethiopian birr ($50) fine, a small fortune in Ethiopia where salaries rarely exceed $100 a month.

The Martyrs' Memorial Monument commemorates the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front's (TPLF) struggle against and overthrow of the Derg, in Mekelle.

The Martyrs’ Memorial Monument commemorates the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) struggle against and overthrow of the Derg, in Mekelle.

“We hardly see more smokers. People really stopped,” said Teklay Weldemariam, the head of the city’s health department and one of the architects of this law.

“The speed of non-communicable diseases is increasing. Cancer is one of them. So it is high time to ban cigarettes in public areas.”

He hopes Mekelle will be an example to others.

“I know other Ethiopian towns are interested in the experience of Mekelle. This can also inspire other East African cities,” said Teklay.

Some grumble at the ban, frustrated at the restrictions, but others say the law is necessary.

“If you enter a cafe with smokers, you could not say anything because it was part of social life, it was fully accepted. This prohibition is a very good idea,” said John Haile Selassie.

After targeting tobacco, the authorities are also aiming to stamp out khat, a leafy green herb that is mildly narcotic when chewed.

“Consumption is rising and the government wants to do something,” said Teklay. But he recognised the subject is “sensitive” as chewing khat plays a role in some customs and traditions in parts of Ethiopia.