Dimitri Bruyas, The China Post
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The smoking rate among junior high school students in 2006 has reached 7.50 percent, up from 6.53 percent in 2004, officials from the Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) said yesterday, while they announced new smoking regulations that aim at curbing smoking habits among youngsters. They added that a new Web site was launched to help children of all ages better understand the new smoking regulations (http://health99.doh.gov.tw/). In addition to related information about smoking and its health consequences, visitors can take part in a Q&A game and win MP3 players or book coupons. “In recent years, cigarette manufacturers have been proposing cigarette packs in attractive colors more appealing to youngsters,” said Yu Po-tsen, director of the Health Education Central at the BHP, who added that he hoped to use multimedia as a tool. “In 2006, the smoking rate among junior high female students was 4.69 percent,” he said. According to new regulations, parents will be held responsible if their child buys cigarettes in convenience stores. “In the past, only the cigarette resellers would be fined if they sold their products to young adults under 18 years old,” he said. Compared with other countries, however, packs of cigarettes in Taiwan are still the second cheapest in Asia. For instance, the same well-known “red and white” brand of cigarettes costs NT$60 in Taiwan, NT$70 in Japan, NT$150 in Hong Kong, and almost NT$200 in Europe. “But in order to increase cigarette prices, we need the support of the Legislature,” he added. “Only six to 10 students, out of more than 2500, have ever been caught smoking in our school,” said Suen Ching-yuan, dean of students’ discipline at Zhongzheng Junior High School in Taipei City. “But no girls so far have ever been punished here.” Suen said that smoking teenagers are usually lonely students, who struggle with their homework and often start smoking out of curiosity. “The school regulations have always been the same,” he went on, noting that “violators would be strongly punished.” Suen added that the school would regularly invite private foundations or the BHP to organize prevention activities, but parents are always contacted first if students are caught smoking.
“The children smoke because the current regulations are not strict enough,” he said. “I am a good student,” said Julia Wang, 16 from a private senior high school in Taipei. “I started smoking when I was in junior high, although I was the last one to start smoking among my friends,” she continued. “Of course, my parents were very angry at me when they found about it,” she added. “But I use my pocket money and refrain from smoking at school,” she said, while taking a black and silver pack of cigarettes from her backpack. “It is only NT$60,” she said. In related news, the Tainan City government announced that custom authorities intercepted more than 700 large boxes of cigarettes yesterday afternoon, valued at more than NT$20 million on the market, which constitutes the highest quantity of contraband cigarettes seized this year.