Thoughts on Taiwan's new 'smoking ban'

Interviews by Trista di Genova
Published in The China Post, 22 March 2009

Benjamin Kotin is half-Taiwanese, half-American, from Seattle, Washington, and teaches in Taipei.

BEN: I think it’s not a good idea. I appreciate the concept, but I think it really almost infringes on people’s rights to do something such as smoke if they so desire. I’m not a smoker myself, but if I go into a bar I have no problem whatsoever with people smoking. In this way, I think they’ve gone too far.
It’s true in America that smoking bans are more stringent. You can see the contrast in how Washington state has the same ban that Taiwan has just implemented. However in North Carolina where tobacco is a major cashcrop, there is no such ban. And you can also see this relative to taxes on a pack or carton of cigarettes — North Carolina has one of lowest taxes, Washington state the highest.
I’m still a little confused about what is now the law. Didn’t they modify it a bit after it came out? The original law seemed to imply you couldn’t smoke inside or outside, but apparently if everybody else doesn’t care, you can get around it.
It just effects places where there’s already no smoking, and where it’s confined to the workplace or airplanes, or might have pregnant women and children. I support those kind of ideas.

Nina Peck is from Liverpool, England, and teaches in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.

NINA: I don’t really see any difference. You can smoke everywhere; even the pubs I go to have smoking in them. I’ve never seen anybody get a ticket for it, and I’ve never been harassed. I’ve asked my friends here, and no one else seems to notice any difference [after the smoking ban took effect]. I quit smoking in October after smoking 10 years, because I don’t really like it and for health reasons.

Other responses from expats:
Out of all the places I’ve been, I’ve never seen smoking so deeply ingrained in the culture. They haven’t banned smoking, so much as littering. Outside of a bar, a few Asian guys taught me that the police can’t fine you if you don’t leave any litter.
They didn’t do it right back home, either. In Canada, you’ll never go to the bar now; you might as well watch it at someone’s house — there’s cheaper beer and you can smoke. Before, you wanted to be in the pubs watching a big-screen. Bars are going out of business everywhere in Canada.
All these modifications about being able to smoke, it was a scam in Canada. The first round of the smoking ban made it so you had to close off a separate section of the bar/restaurant, and have fans. Then a month later, after you spent money on putting in fans, it was no fans — the smoking area had to be outside, with a roof.
— “Lance,” unemployed Canadian

There are far more “no smoking” signs everywhere, but the only thing that’s changed is there are no ashtrays; the owners might get fined for that. But otherwise, everybody keeps on smoking, even teenagers, almost all old men. At my favorite hangouts in Taipei, there’s still smoking after 9 p.m. or so.
The thing I like about Taiwan’s laws is they’re not invasive; in this case, venues have to provide ventilation and usually have an outdoor smoking area, anyway. But this is a smoker’s paradise, still. And fags — you can get a whole carton for the price of one pack in New York, England or Canada. Although that’s going to change soon, adding 10NT or so a pack.
In the UK, you can’t smoke in pubs anymore; it’s killed the pub trade. Even in Ireland — another place it’s unimaginable to put into place a smoking ban — they had to be fierce about enforcement. They put anti-smoking narks to watch the door and fine you if you smoke.
Here, there’s more free choice.

— “Jen,” a writer from Scotland