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Alliance member advocates raising legal smoking age

The legal age for smoking should be raised and packaging laws changed to discourage young people from smoking, Taiwan Medical Alliance for the Control of Tobacco members said yesterday.

“Many students enter college wanting to demonstrate that they have escaped parental control and they do this by riding motorcycles, getting a girlfriend and smoking — but if the legal age was raised to 21, they would not try it,” said Lee Meng-chih (李孟智), superintendent of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Taichung Hospital.

The legal age for purchasing cigarettes is 18.

China Medical University professor Wen Chi-pang (溫啟邦) said that more than 90 percent of smokers become addicted before they are 21, adding that based on the experience of other nations, raising the legal age would push the smoking rate down by about 3 percent over three to five years, with an additional 5 percent drop possible if packaging laws were altered to increase the size of cautionary images so that they cover most of cigarette boxes.

“The pictures on boxes are too timid — they should be much more graphic,” Wen said, calling for packaging changes to compensate for the nation’s relatively low cigarette taxes.

“The average smoker looks at a cigarette box at least 20 times per day, so if you make the images more graphic, it would increase their incentive to quit,” he said. “However, if all a smoker sees is a pregnant stomach, that is not going to have any effect.”

He said that smoking rates are about 30 percent for men and 5 percent for women, with the national rate decreasing by an average of 0.5 percent per year.

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