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Kaohsiung takes heat for Japan Tobacco ties

By Stephanie Chao ,The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Kaohsiung City Government has been accused of having illicit interactions with Japan Tobacco Inc. (JTI, 傑太日煙), whereby city officials funded trips to JTI facilities using tax dollars from tobacco surcharges, the John Tung Foundation said yesterday.
The John Tung Foundation demanded that Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) investigate and rectify the situation. “Tobacco companies should not have a hand in influencing government policies,” the foundation stated. “We want an apology and explanation from Chen.”

Kaohsiung Information Bureau Director-General Ting Yun-kung (丁允恭) said, paraphrasing Chen’s words, that there are many misunderstandings that need to be smoothed out about the overseas government trips, which were arranged by the Kaohsiung Finance Bureau. All itineraries and budgets for future overseas government trips will be re-examined and adjusted accordingly, Ting proposed.

According to the foundation, annual trips made by Kaohsiung government officials since 2008 were carried out under the name of “investigating private and dodgy tobacco.” The officials were also accompanied by high-ranking JTI executives to each tobacco factory.

At least NT$2 million from bonuses have been injected annually to fund the trips to JTI factories world-wide, the foundation alleged.

Investigations will be carried out, said the Health Promotion Administration (HPA, 國健署), under the reasoning that such ties between the government and a tobacco company leave a “bad impression.”

Director-General of the HPA Chiou Shu-ti (邱淑媞) pointed out that any “government officials visiting a tobacco factory,” regardless of the funding origins, “are unsuitable and inadvisable.”

“We have met with the Finance Bureau, and asked them to understand whether the financial funds used for the Kaohsiung government’s trip to Japan’s tobacco factory originated from the health surcharges on tobacco.”

Cuts will be made to the city’s subsidies for tobacco prevention measures if the trip costs were indeed from the health surcharges, Chiou said.

Alleged Violation of FCTC

Lin Ching-li (林清麗), head of the John Tung Foundation tobacco control division, stated that the trips violated the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Annual trips were made, with the exception in 2010 and 2014.

The findings were made and reported by a private citizen, the foundation stated. Prompted by the report, the foundation found upon further probing that wording usage in the Kaohsiung investigation reports was similar of that to the JTI’s word usage in its statements about health prices imposed on tobacco product laws.

“Increasing health surcharges on tobacco is the main reason that illegal tobacco products have become more and more popular,” the foundation stated as an example from the report, and pointed out relations between the government and the JTI were glaringly obvious.

Chien Chen-cheng (簡振澄), commissioner of the local finance department, stated that their overseas investigative trips were to understand methods such as “measures in searching for illegal tobacco products” and “regulating under-aged purchasing of tobacco and alcohol.” Reports from these trips are to provide reference for the central government and other local governments, Chien said.

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