Smoking in South Korea
Smoking in South Korea is similar to other developed countries in the OECD, with a daily smoking rate of 19.9% in 2013 compared to 20.9% in Germany and 19.3% in Japan. However, male smoking is among the highest at 36.2% while female smoking by far the lowest at 4.3%. The South Korean government aims to take down male smoking rate to the OECD average of 29% by 2020 by making the country one of the world's most difficult places to smoke, using a combination of significant price hikes, mandatory warning photos on cigarette packs, advertising bans, financial incentives and medical help for quitting along with a complete smoking ban in public places including all bars, restaurants and cafes.
South Korea enforced strict smoking bans in public places since July 2013, with fines of ₩100,000 won on any spotted smoker and up to ₩5 million won on shop owners not following the law. It is illegal to smoke in all bars and restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, government buildings, kindergartens, schools, universities, hospitals, youth facilities, libraries, children's playgrounds, private academies, subway or train stations and their platforms and underground pathways, large buildings, theaters, department stores or shopping malls, large hotels and highway rest areas. The strict bans came into force gradually beginning with a ban on places larger than 150 square meters in 2012, extended to 100 square meters in 2014, with a full-fledged complete nationwide ban on 1 January 2015.
Since 1 January 2015, South Korea has completely banned smoking on all bars, restaurants and cafes regardless of size, including any smoking rooms. Any spotted smoker must pay fines of 100,000 won and up to 5 million won on shop owners not obeying the law. Anyone can report a smoker via calling or sending a text message to a government hotline (in the case of Seoul, the number is 120) with their location address and authorities will raid the reported place, of which a picture of the offending smoker will be taken and fined 100,000 won. Disguised authorities also secretly check random places at random times for offending smokers.
Since 1 January 2015, tobacco prices have nearly doubled to an average of ₩4,500 KRW, and it is illegal to advertise misleading claims such as "light", "mild", "low tar" or "pure" on cigarette packs.
From December 2016, warning photos such as rotten teeth and black lungs will be mandatory on all cigarette packs.
Discussion is under way at the National Assembly to pass a law that will raise the prices every year pegged to inflation. The government will pass a law in 2015 to completely ban any form of advertising of cigarettes in convenience stores and make it illegal for tobacco companies to sponsor cultural or sport events.
Smoking is illegal and strictly prohibited in the following premises:
- Office, multi-use or factory buildings larger than 1,000 square meters in floor area (of which offices, conference rooms, auditorium and lobby must be smoke-free).
- Institutions larger than 1,000 square meters in floor area (of which classrooms, waiting rooms and lounges must be smoke-free).
- Shopping malls, department stores and underground malls (of which any shop selling goods must be smoke-free).
- Hotels and resorts (of which the lobby must be smoke-free).
- Universities (of which lecture rooms, lounges, auditorium, cafeteria and conference hall must be smoke-free).
- Indoor sports facilities such as basketball and volleyball courts which can seat more than 1,000 people (of which the seats and pathways must be smoke-free).
- Social welfare facilities (of which the living and working rooms, lounge, cafeteria and conference hall must be smoke-free).
- Airports, bus terminals and train stations (of which waiting rooms, domestic flights, cabins, inside trains, subway car and its platform and underground stations and underground pathways must be smoke-free).
- Any vehicle that can seat more than 16 people.
- Public baths (of which changing rooms and bathing rooms must be smoke-free).
- Game arcades, comic book renting shops and internet cafes.
- Bars, restaurants, cafes, fast food restaurants and bakeries, regardless of size.
- Baseball or football/soccer stadiums which can seat more than 1,000 people (of which the seats and pathways must be smoke-free).
- Kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.
- Hospitals and health centers.
- All subway station exits (10m around the exits) from April 2016.
- Subway station exits in Gwanak District, Seocho District and Yeongdeungpo District (10m around the exits).
- All parks owned by Seoul city (including sidewalks around rivers or streams).
- All bus stops.
- Apartments designated as smoke-free.
- All gas stations.
- Road between Gwanghwamun and Seoul Station.
- Cheonggye plaza at the beginning of Cheongyecheon and Gwanghwamun plaza.
- Insa-dong street.
- Both sides of the road between Gangnam Station and Sinnonhyeon Station. Extended to the road between Gangnam Station and Woosung Apartments in 2015.
- The area surrounding Jamsil Station which includes Lotte World, Lotte World Tower, Songpa-gu Office, Galleria Palace apartments and entrance to Seokchon Lake.
- Namdaemun street around Myeong-dong.
- Both sides of the road between Yeouido Station and Yeouinaru Station.
- Yeongdeungpo Station plaza and both sides of the National Assembly road (2.1 km).
- Both sides of the road around the Daechi-dong academy town.
- Festivals street in Mok-dong around Happy department store.
- Streets around the entrance of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Kyung Hee University.
- Seongbuk and Jeongneung streams, Hanaro street, Amazon street near Mia Elementary School.
In addition to the nationwide ban laws, several cities designate the following areas must be smoke-free:
- Apartment corridors, stairs, elevators and car parks in Gyeonggi-do if at least 60% of residents have agreed to keep them smoke-free.
- Wolmi-do culture street in Incheon.
- All bus stops, areas around schools, Lake Park and Hwarang pleasure ground in Ansan.
- All bus stops, areas around schools and city parks in Seongnam.
- The entire Busan Citizens' Park.
- Dongseong street in Daegu.
- Noeun Station and Yuseong Culture Park in Daejeon's Yuseong District.
- Sanbon Rodeo Street in Gunpo.
Financial and medical help for quitting
People who have successfully quit smoking will receive 50,000 to 150,000 KRW as a financial incentive from the government. A 12-week medical help program for quitting is provided at a heavily subsidised cost of 5,000KRW upon the first treatment, reduced to 3,000KRW thereafter. Smoking cessation aids such as bupropion, varenicline and nicotin patches are handed out for free at any participating medical center nationwide. Anyone in need of consulting smoking cessation can dial a hotline and consult a doctor or specialist.
Prevalence and effects
Reports suggest that persistently high rates of smoking in the military contribute to the high incidence of male smoking, and negate the efficacy of anti-smoking measures, as many men start smoking during their mandatory 2-year military service. The Public Health Graduate School of Yonsei University completed a 13-year medical study on 1.2 million patients and found that about 73% of male smokers and 18% of female smokers contracted lung cancer. There is rising awareness of the health effects of tobacco. The economy of South Korea loses more than 10 trillion won a year in terms of health-care expenses and lost man-hours due to smoking-related illness.
Eight out of ten teenagers were found to think they should not smoke by looking at cigarette pack warning pictures. According to the Center for Disease Control, 83.1% of teenagers who know cigarette warning pictures responded that they thought smoking cigarettes should not be allowed to smoke. The health authorities have announced that they will replace the cigarette warning label in December and will include a picture symbolizing 'carcinogenicity' in cigarette-type electronic cigarette packs.
South Korean smoking etiquette
Local smoking etiquette in South Korea is influenced by Confucianism. For instance, smokers generally refrain from, or seek permission before lighting up in the presence of social superiors; a social superior could be a boss, professor, parent, grandparent, or teacher.
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