Preventing youth smoking by increasing cigarette price in Taiwan

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Smoking is addictive and it causes considerable harmful effects to public health. In Taiwan, the “Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act” has been enforced since January 2009, and the adult smoking prevalence declined from 29.9% in 1996 to 19.8% in 2010 after the implementation of advertising bans, smoking-free public indoor environment and the health surcharge regulated by the Act. However, about 35% of adult males are still smokers, which is 1.6 times higher than the smoking rate of the counterparts in western countries. What’s worse, there is no trend of decline in youth smoking rate (through 2004 to 2010), even though selling cigarettes to teenagers is prohibited by the Act.

Youth smoking is associated with greater tendency of lifelong tobacco dependence. Once developed, greater effort is required to remove the addiction, and the benefit from cessation is diminishing as the duration gets longer. Exposure to smoking environment (e.g. smokers in the family or school, etc) precipitates this behavior and low tobacco prices further encourage the purchase. From the article 6 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), putting measures on price and tax of tobacco is recognized as an important means of reducing its consumption, especially effective in young persons. This approach is also supported by the Surgeon General.  Currently, for every pack of cigarettes purchase, smokers pay 20 NTD for the health surcharge and 11.8 NTD for the tax (about 1.05 USD in total) in addition to the original pack prices of various brands. The price for a pack of 20 cigarettes ranges from 55 to 90 NTD (approx. 1.86~3.04 USD). Compared with the prices in most of OECD countries, the price in Taiwan is among the lowest, and this leaves room for the price/tax increasing measure to tackle the smoking prevalence.

Smokers and opponents consider all the anti-smoking measures are just to criminalize this behavior, and raising the tax and price of cigarette will only affect those with low income, but not the entire smoker population as high prices will not scare away all the puffers. It, however, provides those with less dependence on tobacco an ideal reason to drop the cigarette, as the teenagers being the biggest beneficiary presumably. On the other hand, most of the money that comes from the smokers will eventually go to the health spending on the care of various adverse consequences attributed to smoking. The tax and surcharge also reflect the external costs derived from smoking. There is still a lot to deal with regarding to cigarette addiction, but we will never have the chance to protect health of the public if our competitors are always readily available with such a low price.

Yi-Tsun Chen

Yung-Ching Lin

Chou-jui Lin

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4 Responses to “Preventing youth smoking by increasing cigarette price in Taiwan”

  1. sbf17 Says:

    Thank you for the interesting topic!, I do believe that prevention of smoking especially in a vulnerable population like youths can prove very beneficial in terms of many aspects including later health outcomes. Increasing the price of cigarettes may also motivate youths to give more thought to the health impact of cigarettes. However, when I was in Taiwan, I remembered a lot of male youths smoke because it tends to be part of the culture. Therefore, I think preventing youth smoking will require more than raising the price of cigarettes – it may require some changes in Taiwanese culture.

  2. drkhoja Says:

    I am very supportive to introduce interventions that helps in decreasing prevalence of tobacco consumption among the youth and under aged population. the tobacco industry focus its marketing on this part of the population.
    regarding the price increasing, many studies shown a positive effect of taxation and price increase on decreasing the youth cigarettes use over time. the effect was more clear among this groups when compared with the adults. this can be due to multiple behavior and social factors that influence the change. however, we also keep in mind that the adult, usually is able to cope with the price increase but the youth they have less chance to find extra income to buy a cigarettes. This issue raises an important disadvantage regarding the price increase. which can be addressed by speculate what the impact of this increase on the youth behavior. we assumed that the youth will give up smoking, but we forget that it is not easy to quite this toxins. how many of them will try to find money though illegal ways, what are that chance that these underage could be utilized or extorted for one cigarette?!
    I believe that if such intervention is going to be introduced many steps should be considered especially where there is lack of supportive community programs, other alternatives, monitoring, strong police enforcement and protection of this disadvantage group…

  3. preetyr Says:

    World wide countries are facing with the issue of decreasing prevalence of tobacco consumption. All the countries are in dichotomy of balancing economic growth and well being of the population.

    I too agree that country should develop and implement policy to address this issue in both ways. As in the case of Taiwan the Government have enforced an act to prevent smoking but they have not done anything to make it inaccessible to the population at large. The cigarette is still accessible and affordable to the population irrespective of social status. Moreover, the country has also set an example that just enforcing an act is not enough. The community should also be involved in it and make them a part of policy implementation, keeping the culture in mind.

  4. kaylee777 Says:

    Increasing tobacco tax is known to be an effective way together with smoking ban in public places to reduce smoking. And tobacco tax increase especially affects reduction in youth smoking. There being valid reasons for concern over youth smoking as you have well noted, comprehensive efforts are needed to prevent tobacco use by young people without good understanding of the use and consequences they may have. Alongside the policy, health promotion such as public service campaign, education with provision of appropriate knowledge and solution would be effective.

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