TAIWAN AND THE DECLINE OF SMOKING
By Kevin Stoda, Taiwan
Taiwan is not the only country to have stiff anti-smoking laws. Nor is it alone in Asia in creating and carrying out strong anti-smoking campaigns among its populace, but Taiwan does appear--from my perspective--to have significantly reduced smoking and has created a near zero-tolerance level among many populations of the country. (I have taught in ten countries and I have never seen such a reduction in smoking anywhere in such a short period of time.)
Let me clarify. When I visited Taipei in 1992, I observed no significant difference between the smoking levels in Taipei City, Tokyo nor Hong Kong. The only country in Asia that appeared to have much restriction on smoking at that time, e.g. especially in and around its metros of subways, was, of course, Singapore. However, since 2004, both tiny Bhutan and Taiwan have been leading the way in Asia, in terms of anti-smoking campaigns, implementation of strong anti-smoking laws, and carrying out crack-downs in the popular media.
Who says that having a patriarchal government doesn't have benefits?
Adults here in Taiwan claim that the biggest obstacle to smoking is a tax rate of 20 to 25% on cigarettes and tobacco products, but I beleive the shift over the last twenty years to be more likely due to the combination of taxes, legislation, and popular campaigns against smoking (and campaigns promoting better health). For example, since I arrived to teach in Taiwan in August last year, I have been given no less than three T-shirts with "No-Smoking" printed on them to be worn at home or around the school. Likewise, this last autumn all Taiwanese schools at all grade levels had anti-smoking campaigns or, at least, offered educational programs.
According to Wikipedia's article sources, out of 23 million Taiwanese, there are approximately 5 million smokers. However, I suspect that the numbers are lower than this--as that particular article was written two years ago and the national and local campaigns continue. Moreover, visibility of cigarettes and smoking are becoming almost null through fairly draconian media rules and self-imposed political correctness campaigns run by editorialists in major newspapers.
According to one article, it is the popular Japanese-produced TV programs, which most often break the media restrictions and taboos now-outlined clearly by various Taiwanese government authorities and think tanks. The examples provided in that particular article however, were of two children's cartoons (made in Japan)--both regularly showing smokers with cigarettes hanging from their chins or mouths.
Meanwhile, in January of this year it was reported that the consumption of cigarettes in Taiwan had declined a further 13% over the previous 12 month period. I laud Taiwan for the success they have had in reducing smoking consumption--even if the crackdown over the past decade has been patriarchal. It is certainly to the society's benefit, especially in terms of savings on health care costs over the next years and generations.