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【China Post】Betel nut tax would raise revenue and promote health

Dr. Yang Chih-liang, minister of health, is proposing a new tax or surtax. Don't think it's an idle recommendation. As a matter of fact, Taiwan should have long collected what he calls betel nut tax.

Of course, Dr. Yang wants to increase our tax revenues. Taiwan needs to either raise tax rates or find new taxes to try to repay its mountain of public debt, which one unofficial estimate puts at NT$19 trillion (US$600 billion). His one more rationale for levying the new tax is to make people healthier. Well, that is his job as health minister, isn't it?

By now everybody knows betel nut chewing is closely related to incidences of cancer of the mouth. Our foreign readers in Taiwan must have seen quite a number of people spitting out “blood” at will while chewing the lime-filled nut everywhere they go. They're actually not spitting out blood. It is really just their own saliva mixed with the residue of the betel nut that they chew like chewing gum.

However, chewing gum doesn't cause mouth cancer. Betel nut does.

That's why Dr. Yang wants to help betel nut lovers kick their habit of chewing the likely carcinogen. His recommendation must be accepted at once, for it's one stone that kills two birds — to make people healthier and increase tax revenues at the same time.

Cigarettes cause cancer. The cause-and-effect relation between cigarettes and cancer had been known for 20 years before it was reported first by the Kansas City Star, whose editor defied tobacco manufacturers who threatened to cut off all advertising. Without the paper's defiance, no tax would have been imposed on cigarettes, not to speak of the ban on cigarette ads almost everywhere across the world.

If a heavy tax can be collected from cigarette smokers, there is no reason why a lighter tax can't be imposed on betel nut chewers. A cut in betel nut consumption, on the other hand, helps promote public health. At the very least, the unsightly scenes of “blood-spitting” in the street will be encountered less often.

Should a tax be imposed, an addict would have to pay NT$2 to NT$3 (about a dime) more for a pack of 20 nuts. That's not much. We hope the tax would be heavier to help protect the health of the chewers.

Our good-hearted health minister fears it will not be easy to collect the tax he is proposing. Unlike cigarettes, betel nuts on the market are not “manufactured.” It will be very difficult to collect the tax from vendors, who prepare the nuts themselves for customers.

 

Will the government come up with a better way to collect the tax? Tax officials have to be creative. They shouldn't remain idle tax collectors. They should listen to Rene Descartes, whose immortal dictum is; “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am.”

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