The National Assembly on Friday approved a bill that will make it obligatory for tobacco-makers to display graphic warnings on cigarette packs.
The passage of the antismoking bill came after 11 attempts dating back to 2002. It requires image and word warnings on cigarette packs.
The amendment to the National Health Promotion Act, aimed at deterring Koreans from smoking by highlighting its dangers, mandates that pictorial warning labels cover more than half of the cigarette packs, with the image making up at least 30 per cent of the packaging.
Violators of the law will face up to a year in jail or up to 10 million won (S$12,000) in fines, or revocation of the company's business license.
The bill will take effect next December after an 18-month grace period.
However, an unclear clause in the new plan, which stipulates that the images on cigarette packs must not be "excessively" repulsive, will likely spark controversy between the authorities and tobacco industry.
Korea continues to show a high smoking rate, particularly among men, of which 37.6 per cent smoke, according to the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development health data. It is the second-highest of the OECD countries, following Greece.
As part of the antismoking campaign, the government raised tobacco prices by 2,000 won per pack in January.
The health authorities further plan to revise the Tobacco Business Act to ban convenience stores from advertising cigarettes and to designate indoor sports facilities as non-smoking areas in a bid to lower the men's smoking rate to 29 per cent, the average level for men among OECD countries, by 2020.