Smoke-free zones to be expanded

Smoke-free zones to be expanded

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Friday that it was pushing to prohibit smoking in all sports facilities, a day after it issued a nationwide smoking ban on all restaurants.

Current law on public health only mandates a smoking ban on sports-related facilities that can accommodate a thousand people or more. The ministry said that they will push to revise the law within next year to include smaller facilities, such as indoor golf facilities, pools and fitness centers.

Officials said the law revision, which was originally intended for passage this year, was postponed to allow the ministry to focus its efforts on other policies like raising tobacco prices and mandating pictorial health warnings on every cigarette pack.

From next year, smoking inside all restaurants will be forbidden. Previously, smoking was banned only in eateries that are 100 square meters or larger.

Anyone caught smoking in a restaurant will be slapped with a 100,000 fine ($90), and the owner of the venue will be fined 1.7 million won.

But restaurant owners can install a "smoking room," a sealed area exclusively used for smoking, for the customers to use.

"To ensure that the new measures (on the restaurant smoking ban) will take hold as quickly as possible, (the Health Ministry) will conduct a nationwide promotion throughout December in cooperation with regional government bodies," ministry officials said. They will also carry out a nationwide crackdown on smoking in public places such as bus terminals or Internet cafes.

Officials reiterated that, contrary to what some people believe, using electronic cigarettes in smoke-free areas is punishable by law.

Expanding the smoke-free zones is part of government's effort to decrease the country's male smoking rate to 29 per cent by 2020. According a survey commissioned by the Health Ministry, 48.3 per cent of Korean men smoked, one of the highest rates among members of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In September, the government nearly doubled the retail price of tobacco to 4,500 won a pack as part of the effort to reduce smoking. In light of the expected increase in tax revenue from cigarette sales, the government budget dedicated to helping people quit smoking has also been increased tenfold from 11.2 billion won in 2014 to 136.2 billion won.

(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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