Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Some retail and wholesale stores in New Taipei City started an effort Tuesday to make charcoal less accessible to buyers, in keeping with a city government initiative to prevent suicides.
At several stores around the city, charcoal is now being stored in locked cabinets or at the cashier counter to make it less accessible to people who might try to commit suicide by burning charcoal in an enclosed space.
New Taipei City is the first area in Taiwan to institute such a suicide deterrent measure.
At a warehouse wholesaler in Banciao District that the city's public health officials visited, buyers have to ask for the charcoal and tell the salesperson why they want to purchase it.
However, the store is not required to record the personal information of charcoal buyers, city officials said.
The store keeps the charcoal locked away and distributes brochures on suicide prevention, said one of its senior staff Huang Kao-yang.
It plans to select some staff members for training as "suicide prevention gatekeepers," who would be able to discern whether charcoal buyers appear suicidal, Huang added.
A customer surnamed Lin said despite the slight inconvenience, the new measure would be meaningful if it can help lower suicide rates.
In addition, the city's 29 public health centers are providing free psychological counseling this year.
The move came after an increase in charcoal suicides around the city in recent months and was inspired by Hong Kong's successful experience, city officials said.
New Taipei City recorded 548 suicides last year, 30 percent of which were committed by means of burning charcoal in an enclosed space, according to the city's public health department.
(By Sunrise Huang and Kendra Lin)