Should Taiwan Raise Tobacco Health and Welfare Surcharges All at Once or Gradually? Six Veteran Debaters Gather to Discuss Tax Policies on Tobacco Products

TAIPEI, June 19, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — On the afternoon of June 16, 2024, the Chinese Debate Promotion Association (CDPA) hosted the “Debate: Professional Dialogue and Civic Criticism on Smoking Control and Prevention” at the Sun Yun-Suan Memorial Museum. Veteran debaters Yi-Fu Zhao (趙翊夫), Yu-Chen Hung (洪玉珍), Nai-Kang Chang (張乃剛), and Jing-Ying Xiao (蕭靖穎) engaged in a lively discussion centered on, “Should Taiwan Raise Tobacco Health and Welfare Surcharges All at Once or Gradually?” Experts from related fields, including Fei-Ran Guo (郭斐然), Managing Director of Taiwan Association of Tobacco Control and Smoking Cessation Education, Ju-Wei Tseng (曾巨威), Chair Professor of Law and Business at Soochow University and a Distinguished Professor at CTBC Business School, Yao-Hui Huang (黃耀輝), Professor of Finance and Taxation at Taipei University of Business, De-Ying Wang (王德瀛), Director of Cross-Domain Integration Centre of the Institute of Law for Science and Technology at Institute for Information Industry (III), and CDPA Board Member En-Jia Cai (蔡恩加), shared their valuable insights and perspectives.

The Chinese Debate Promotion Association (CDPA) hosted the event Debate: Professional Dialogue and Civic Criticism on Smoking Control and Prevention on June 16
The Chinese Debate Promotion Association (CDPA) hosted the event Debate: Professional Dialogue and Civic Criticism on Smoking Control and Prevention on June 16

The Health Promotion Administration (HPA) announced plans to review the tobacco and health surcharge, which has remained unchanged for 15years, sparking widespread concerns. Medical organizations have staged press conferences advocating for an increase in the surcharge on tobacco products to fund cancer and rare disease treatments. Advocates for an one-off increase cited several reasons: the levies on tobacco products have only been raised only three times in the 22 years since the enactment of the Smoke Hazards Prevention Act, totaling NT$20, suggesting an inadequate pricing strategy to control volume. Furthermore, the stagnant tobacco surcharges has hampered tobacco control measures, while an annual increment would likely allow consumers to gradually adapt, potentially undermining efforts to reduce consumption. A substantial increase in tobacco surcharges represents the most cost-effective administrative approach to tobacco prevention, providing crucial funding for cessation treatments and other initiatives.

Advocates for an annual increment in the tobacco surcharge highlighted a smoking population that is predominantly comprised of young, male individuals with lower educational backgrounds. A significant increase could potentially impact the financial stability of disadvantaged and working-class groups. Many current smokers, heavily dependent and resistant to change, might turn to lower-quality, illicitly smuggled cigarettes or e-cigarettes in response to rising prices. The decline in legit cigarette imports would not only result in tax revenue losses, impacting public health expenditures funded by the surcharge, but also increase the cost of smuggling detection, outweighing its benefits. Previous efforts in other jurisdictions demonstrate that while progressive tax policies in the UK and Sweden led to a reduction in both legit and black-market cigarette sales, Germany’s significant surcharge proved counterproductive when it resulted in a slight 2% drop in the legit market but a near 35% increase in black-market cigarettes. The outcomes point to a gradual annual increase, taking into account the issues of fairness and possible increase in the illicit trade of counterfeit cigarettes.

Former legislator Tseng Ju-wei argued that evaluating a one-off or gradual increase in tobacco surcharges should prioritize the target surcharges ratio. He noted that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of a tobacco tax burden ratio not falling below 75% might not align with Taiwan’s condition. It is crucial to consider Taiwan’s cigarette price elasticity to mitigate the societal costs associated with a substantial increase. Based on previous experience, there were issues such as stockpiling cigarettes with old surcharges ahead of price hikes and a rise in tobacco surcharges without a corresponding tax increase, which subsequently led to a drop in tobacco consumption, boosting surcharges revenue but causing tobacco tax loss. Smuggling persists regardless of whether the increase is one-off or gradual. Though hypothetically, annual increment may somewhat alleviate smuggling concerns, the disparity between the two approaches is minimal. Professional smoking cessation physician Guo Fei-ran emphasized the viability of both approaches to increasing tobacco surcharges, noting that the primary goal of tobacco surcharges is to curtail cigarette consumption, not to boost tax revenue. Some  opinions suggest that introducing new tobacco products will enhance tax revenue, but this actually reverses the cause and effect. Additionally, the rate of tobacco surcharge increases should not be a concern for addicted individuals, as numerous patients with acute and severe illnesses are naturally compelled to quit during their medical treatments. “Smoking Kills, Quit Now!” The government should deploy scientific methods to determine the price elasticity of cigarettes and implement reasonable taxes to effectively reduce tobacco consumption. Finance expert Huang Yao-hui highlighted the importance of considering inflation and price changes when implementing a one-off or segmented increase in tobacco surcharges. Failure to do so may diminish the impact of price adjustments on consumption volumes, as consumers may not perceive the price hike. To address smuggling, Huang emphasized the need for increased funding and intensified efforts in identifying and apprehending smugglers. While a significant hike in tobacco surcharges may have limited effect on established smokers, it could be more effective in deterring potential users, especially teenagers, from taking their first puff.

The organizer, CDPA, expressed its aspiration that through the integration of ‘Critical Thinking, Professionalism, and Public Opinion,’ skilled debaters will advocate for various public efforts at prevention and curtailment. By recognizing the importance of professional opinions and conducting seminars for public opinion representatives, CDPA aims to showcase the cognitive and practical benefits of policy debates to the general public, fostering a more diverse landscape for discourse and dialogue on pressing social issues. Since 2022, a series of events have been staged on crucial topics such as smoking prevention, money laundering deterrence, labor rights for delivery workers, and unconditional basic income. The events are open to the general public and the media, and are streamed live online for broader access. Additionally, a participatory mechanism is implemented to encourage audience members to voice their perspectives during the events, ultimately enhancing social dialogue and promoting critical thinking and discernment among a wider audience.

CDPA ( was founded with the mission of fostering debate education on campus. Over the past decade, it has organized the CDPA Debate Tournament, creating a premium platform for debates among universities and colleges, and supporting debating clubs in forging partnerships with debate resources. In recent years, CDPA has set its sights on bridging debate education with the involvement of the public, aiming to cultivate a civil society centered around discernment.


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