Department of Health (DOH) Minister Wen-Ta Chiu (邱文達) considered the idea of increasing the tobacco health and welfare surcharge by NTD20 (USD0.67) per pack of cigarette, but said that consultations with the Ministry of Finance and professional scholars were needed before reaching a final decision. Three years have passed since the last time increase of NTD10 (USD0.33) was enacted in 2009, reaching NTD20 (USD0.67) surcharge per pack.
Compared to countries such as UK and the United States, male smoking rate in Taiwan is 1.6 times higher, especially among those with lower social-economic status. According to the prediction of public health experts, the number of deaths due to smoking was 19,459 in 2011, with adverse health effects such as heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, oral cancer and colorectal cancer. The interaction of obesity and betel quid chewing also made prevention work more difficult, said Bureau of Health Promotion.
World Health Organization suggested that excise tobacco tax should account for at least 57% of total cigarette price, and yet the percentage in Taiwan is only 54%, lower than the minimum standard. Most European and American nations have already increased their tobacco excise taxes to 60-70% and they are still constantly increasing the taxes because this is an effective way of reducing the smoking rate.
Would higher tobacco tax lead to increased tobacco smuggling? The reality is that price is not the only or the most important cause for tobacco smuggling, as high-percentage smuggling often occurs in places with low cigarette prices. Currently, Taiwan allocates NTD300 million (USD10 million) from the tobacco health and welfare surcharge every year for illicit tobacco investigation. Higher tobacco tax can help increase resources to curb smuggling.