Asia

Taiwan tries to kick deadly addiction to betel nuts

Updated 8:57 PM ET, Mon September 5, 2016
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Along the streets and highways in Taiwan -- especially in the cities' outskirts and in the countryside -- are neon-lit booths with scantily clad "betel nut beauties." Johan Nylander/CNN
Women like Ling Ling serve customers betel nut, an addictive snack that is hugely popular in Taiwan. Johan Nylander/CNN
Often wrapped in betel leaves, or paan, and chewed like a large fibrous chewing-gum, the betel nut gives a buzz on a par with several shots of espresso or, some say, amphetamine. Johan Nylander/CNN
It's not just popular in Taiwan. Betel nut is also chewed in India, Myanmar, parts of China and Papua New Guinea,making it the world's fourth most commonly used psychoactive substance after tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Bao Bao, a betel nut seller, holds a box of nuts a cup for chewers to spit in. Taiwan wants people to kick the habit. Since 2014, anyone caught spitting betel nut juice in the capital of Taipei will be fined and required to attend withdrawal classes. The tradition is under fire for its negative health impacts and several medical research studies show that chewing betel nuts is highly carcinogenic. Johan Nylander/CNN
Taiwan is trying to incentivize local farmers to change crops and cut the supply of the betel nut. Some 4,800 hectares of betel nut farming land are expected to be transformed into cultivation for crops like tea, citrus fruits or mango. SAM YEH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Other countries are also trying to curb the habit. In Myanmar, the government has ordered all employees not to chew betel during office hours and has started a campaign to remove betel vendors from public places, including those popular with tourists. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
This stained wall in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea shows the unsightly red saliva betel nut users spit into the street when they chew. TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/AFP/Getty Images