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Taiwan plans to expand smoking ban to bars, nightclubs

Taiwan is planning to revise regulations to ban smoking in bars, nightclubs and cigar houses, and to restrict electronic cigarettes in the same way as tobacco, officials said Thursday.

The law currently bans smoking at most public places, but permits it at cigar houses as well as bars and nightclubs that are open after 9 p.m. and exclusively to people above the age of 18.

Smoking is also allowed in certain indoor areas of hotels, restaurants and shopping malls that are equipped with separate smoking partitions with independent air-conditioning systems.

But a draft amendment to the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act, which was announced by the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Health Promotion Administration on Wednesday, will ban smoking at all of the above places, said Lo Su-ying (羅素英), an official from the administration.

Lo said the amendment follows international trend and is based on findings that indoor partitions cannot effectively prevent second-hand smoke from spreading in the air.

The amendment will also ban e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco, and make it illegal to provide the smoking alternative to people under the age of 18, with violators subject to a fine of up to NT$10,000 (US$313), Lo said.

Electronic cigarettes have emerged as a new threat to people’s health and could expose minors to cigarettes at an early age, Lo said, adding that the amendment also bans e-cigarette advertisements and sponsorships.

According to statistics released by the Health Promotion Administration, at least 20,000 people in Taiwan die from cigarette- caused illnesses each year.

Over 40 percent of Taiwanese men between the ages of 31 and 50 are smokers, a much higher percentage compared to the 24.9 percent in Singapore, 22.5 percent in Norway, 19.9 percent in Hong Kong and 19 percent in New Zealand, the statistics show.

John Tung Foundation, an organization that focuses on public health issues and tobacco control, said it is glad to see the amendment announced, but urged the government to go a step further and raise penalties for violations.

Yau Seu-wain (姚思遠), a law professor and CEO of the foundation, said tobacco manufacturers and importers are only fined between NT$5 million and NT$25 million for violations, even though their total revenues amount to about NT$160 billion per year.

Yau urged the government to adopt tougher penalties such as suspending the operations of tobacco manufacturers and importers for up to 3 years and doubling their fines to between NT$10 million and NT$50 million, if they were caught three times illegally advertising or promoting tobacco products.

The administration said it will collect opinions from all sides for a period of 60 days, before sending the amendment to the Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan for review.

The proposed amendment follows a slew of new regulations in Taiwan to tighten smoking control.

Beginning Dec. 26, smoking is forbidden at sidewalks near 267 schools in Taipei, and is also prohibited at all 932 bus stops in Taipei from Jan. 1.

(By Christie Chen and Chang Ming-hsuan)

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