TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has no plans to end duty-free tobacco sales at airports or further restrict the import of cigarettes, officials announced yesterday following speculation about the issue by local media.
National Treasury Agency official Hsieh Chih-tung stated that the the MOF will continue current regulations and "has no plans of making any changes as of now."
Ending sales of duty-free tobacco at airports and introducing tighter limitations on the number of cigarettes that can be brought into Taiwan were suggestions brought forward by health officials during a tobacco control meeting, a Cabinet-hosted meeting held at the end of June. Amendments were to be made to regulations under the Tobacco and Alcohol Tax.
Stricter rules on cigarettes included lowering the maximum number of cigarettes brought into Taiwan to 19 individual cigarettes, essentially banning cigarettes from entering the country at all.
According to a study conducted by the MOF, many countries worldwide continue to let travelers carry a single cigarette or one liter of alcohol upon entering a country. While tobacco imports are completely banned in Singapore, a maximum of 19 individual cigarettes are allowed into Hong Kong.
"Based on international practices and mutual respect in international trade relations," the MOF stated, "the current tobacco and alcohol tax regulations will be maintained for now," as a unilateral change to the rules on bringing tobacco and alcohol would be "unwise."
The MOF also stated that the feasibility of making the legal amendments and executing such changes are matters to think about as well, apart from considering international practices and regulations.
Financial officials cited the difficulty of implementing the possible regulations, as the changes will involve a number of governmental sectors, including the National Treasury Agency, in charge of making regulatory amendments, Taxation Administration, in charge of collecting taxes, and the Customs Administration, in implementing any changes.
Good for Anti-Tobacco
The proposals for canceling and implementing restrictions on cigarettes brought into Taiwan were supported by the Health Promotion Administration (HPA).
According to local media, Director-General of the Health Promotion Administration Chiou Shu-ti stated that Taiwan's cigarette per bag prices were relatively low, at NT$74 (S$3.22) on average, compared with Thailand's NT$81 and Malaysia's NT$100.
Chiou pointed out that Taiwan's duty-free cigarette prices were ranked among the lowest worldwide, which resulted in many foreign tourists buying Taiwan's duty-free tobacco as gifts. The end of sales of tax-free tobacco would be an important step in the tobacco control effort, Chiou said.
People have also used traveling abroad as a chance to buy and resell duty-free tobacco in bulk, which is a violation of the law on selling smuggled tobacco, stated Chiou, citing this issue among the reasons to cancel duty-free tobacco sales. The MOF promised to consider increasing the fine for reselling tobacco during the meeting.
One liter of liquor product (regardless of the quantity of bottles), 200 individual cigarettes, 25 individual cigars or a pound of tobacco are the current maximum quantities enforced on passengers arriving in Taiwan. However, such privileges are restricted to adult passengers, aged 20 and above.
According to the current Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Act Article 5, goods that are brought in from abroad such as personal effects of either travelers or crewmembers for personal use, whose quantity does not exceed the limitations prescribed by the government, are exempt from the act's restrictions.