Changes in Taiwan's Cigarette Market After the US Forced It Open

Thursday, April 23, 2009
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM
Philippines Conference Room
  • Chi Pang Wen

The stated purpose of the Trade Act of 1974 was to promote free trade. Section 301 authorized the U.S. President to impose retaliatory trade sanctions if negotiations were unsuccessful in reducing unreasonable limits on trade. The Act was reinforced in 1984, became known as “Super 301”, and made annual assessment and retaliatory measures mandatory.

Because of trade imbalances, four emerging Asian countries gave the US firms access to cigarette markets: Japan (1987), Taiwan (1987), South Korea (1989) and Thailand (1990). These forced market opennings were called the “Second Opium War” by local protestors in these countries, challenging U.S. export of unwelcome and unhealthy products.

A sea change occurred in the decades that followed the cigarette market opening in Taiwan. Of particular interest are changes in areas marketing skills and market share; lower cigarette prices; paradoxical increased smuggling; increased youth consumption; evolution of the powerful tobacco industry lobby; and a sharp increase in tobacco-related cancer deaths. Accompanying the increased cigarette consumption, a special, unusual habit of chewing betel quid started and grew into a mainstream practice among adult males (nearly one out of four). Oral and esophageal cancer increased sharply soon after the market opened. At the same time, the patriotic protectionists, NGOs, and government galvanized an anti-smoking movement, which gradually transformed Taiwan's culture so that smoking in public is no longer socially acceptable. A new term, “de-normalization,” was coined about the favorable effect of market opening.

 The ironic outcome of Super 301 is that while the market was forced open solely by the US, in only ten years, US market share, once leading, shrunk to a distant fifth, after Japan, UK, Germany and domestic producers. The trade imbalance was little affected by the opening of the cigarette market.

Dr. Wen's colloquium continues the colloquium series on tobacco control in East Asia, sponsored by the Asia Health Policy Program at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, in coordination with FSI’s Global Tobacco Prevention Research Initiative.