Following the October 8, 2009 media reports on the levying of a health tax on betel nut, Taiwan Alliance for Betel Nut Control and Oral Cancer Prevention (hereinafter referred as the Alliance) believes that the government over-emphasizes the issue of technical difficulties in introducing a health tax on betel nut, therefore obscuring the real goal of betel nut control which is the prevention of oral cancer, the safeguard of people’s health and land protection. The Alliance strongly recommends the Executive Yuan adopting a positive, resolute and comprehensive approach to implement betel nut control.
The production and distribution system of betel nut is complex, and its supervision involves many government agencies, which will make drafting a betel nut health tax system a long and complex process. However, government cannot use this as an excuse for inaction: the health of millions of Taiwanese cannot wait! The number of oral cancer cases is rising steadily every year, Taiwan now ranking third in the world for prevalence of oral cancer in men. Furthermore, oral cancer strikes at an increasingly younger age, having become the most prevalent cancer among men aged between 25 and 44 years old who are in the prime of their lives and the main breadwinners in their family. When one person becomes sick, it is the whole family who suffers.
Figures show that there are 5,352 new oral cancer cases in Taiwan in a year, and over 1.4 million oral cancer patients needing medical care. Oral cancer is a huge burden on the National Health Insurance in terms of medical costs. However, the social cost of the disease in terms of wage and productivity loss cannot be ignored. If oral cancer is to be effectively prevented, it is necessary to implement betel nut control.
The Alliance believes that “technical difficulties” should not become the focus of a discussion on betel nut health care tax, which will only result in the different government agencies with influence over the issue trying to avoid fulfilling their responsibilities. Instead, the Alliance calls upon the Executive Yuan to address the national problem of oral cancer by coordinating the various government agencies involved. The Department of Health should continue carrying out education on the dangers of betel nut and oral cancer screening, however, its efforts should be supported by other government agencies. For example, after having classified betel nut as a crop in 2007, the Council of Agriculture has the responsibility to oversee production and develop measures to assist farmers in finding replacement crops to ensure their livelihood. As for the Ministry of Finance, it should put national health ahead of cost considerations, because a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
Taiwan Alliance for Betel Nut Control and Oral Cancer Prevention
Prof. Liang-Chyun HAN Chairman
Chyn-Shien SHU Deputy Chairperson