Smokers say graphic warnings on cigarette packs useless

Cigarette packs are lined up on a shelf in a convenience store in Seoul.
PHOTO: The Korea Herald/ANN

Sung Jong-tae, 35, a heavy smoker for the past 15 years, has tried almost everything there is to quit smoking, but his efforts have been in vain.

"I am well aware, more than anybody else, of the detrimental effects of smoking, having a 3-year-old daughter at home. But still, nothing can physically help me stop smoking," Sung told The Korea Herald.

Even the recently introduced disturbing graphic warnings on cigarette packs have not helped him kick the habit.

"These graphics, though quite terrifying as they are, can easily be covered with my fingers," Sung said.

"Also, I don't really think about them when placing a cigarette in my mouth."

Two months have passed since the government introduced mandatory graphic warnings as part of efforts to curb smoking, but many are questioning its effectiveness.

Read also: Minors try all kinds of tricks to buy cigarettes, but shopkeepers will smoke them out

The ministry designated in December that all cigarette packs sold here, including those sold at duty-free shops, must carry one of 10 designated full-colour photos showing graphic images and warnings on the harmful effects of smoking.

Some of the photos depict the body parts of smokers suffering from fatal diseases such as lung cancer, oral cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

This was the first time since 1986 that the government started using visual images on cigarette packs as part of its anti-smoking campaign. Korean cigarette packs had previously only carried text warnings.

But despite the government's expectations that the altered cigarette packs would pull down the smoking rate by 4.7 per cent on-year, cigarette sales early this year have already surpassed the corresponding period for last year.

Read also: Study of cancer-causing toxins finds e-cigarettes much safer than smoking

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the amount of cigarette packs sold hit 280 million packs in January alone, up 4.9 per cent from the 267 million packs sold in the same period in 2016.

Industry insiders say cigarette sales may record an upward trend in the second quarter of this year.

"Following New Year's resolutions, most smokers tend to decide to give up smoking, which lead to relatively low sales from January to March," said an official from the country's leading tobacco maker KT&G.

"It is the sales volume in April-June that one should really look into, in order to find the actual effect of the graphic warnings on the cigarette packs," he added.

However, smokers say the graphic warnings will not be able to help them quit.

E-cigarettes have 10 times more carcinogens than regular tobacco

  • E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the amount of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said
  • the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking.
  • The electronic devices - increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people
  • - function by heating flavoured liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes, but without the smoke.
  • Researchers found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapour produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid
  • Formaldehyde - a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids -
  • was present at levels 10 times those found in the smoke from regular cigarettes
  • 11 / 15 The World Health Organisation called on governments to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, warning they pose a "serious threat" to unborn babies and young people.

Lee Jung-nam, who runs a convenience store in the crowded district of Gwanghwamun, finds that the disturbing photos have little impact.

"There seems to be little difference among smokers -- and even myself as a seller and a smoker -- when purchasing the cigarette packs with the altered design. (The photos) are not really noticeable, and many smokers already have a box case to put cigarettes inside and throw away the package right away," Lee told The Korea Herald.

"I heard that some convenience shop owners are putting papers and covers in front of shelves to hide the graphic warnings on cigarette packs," he added.

According to Lee, the disturbing photos on the packs simply results in more smokers using cigarette cases.

On blogs and online communities, smokers have uploaded their brand new cigarette cases, from plastic cases to pricey leather case, actively sharing information on where to get them.

According to Ebay Korea, sales of cigarette cases at e-commerce marketplace Auction rose sevenfold in January alone, compared to the same month last year.

15 sneaky ways smoking ruins your life

  • Lighting up is a guaranteed way to premature aging and accelerating your journey to the grave.
  • The chemicals in tobacco smoke is said to trigger the destruction of collagen and elastin, which are fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity.
  • According to doctors, inhaling tobacco smoke weakens the building blocks of the skin, resulting in saggy skin and deeper wrinkles.
  • On top of losing the elasticity of the skin that creates deep lines around the lips, smokers often get something called a "smoker's pucker".
  • When smokers suck air through a cigarette, they repeatedly use a certain set of muscles around their lips. Combined with the loss of skin elasticity, this causes the smoker's pucker.
  • Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. But did you know that the link between smoking and ARMD is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer?
  • Toxins associated with smoking can restrict blood flow to the tiny capillaries in the eyes, cutting off vital nutrients and oxygen. It can cause cataracts, glaucoma, Graves' ophthalmopathy and diabetic retinopathy, among many other serious eye conditions.
  • Age spots are blotches of darker colour on your skin that betray your age.
  • Research suggests that smokers may be more susceptible to developing these unsightly spots.
  • Smoking can accelerate the process of thinning hair.
  • Some studies have even suggested that people who smoke are more likely to go bald.
  • Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches called scales. It usually occurs on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet or back.
  • Recent studies have shown that not only can cigarettes worsen psoriasis symptoms, but a number of researchers believe that they may actually cause psoriasis in some patients.
  • Smoking can weaken your bones through osteoporosis - the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time.
  • This increases the risk of bone fractures.
  • More alarmingly, the bones in the spine can also be affected.
  • Osteoporosis can cause the spine to curve and result in a hunched back.
  • \Smoking causes the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart to become narrower over time, ups blood pressure and makes it easier for the blood to clot.
  • All these increases your odds of getting a heart attack.
  • The impact on the heart, lungs, blood circulation and bones all add up to a poorer performance on the track.
  • Smokers tend to suffer from a more rapid heart rate and shortness of breath even after just a mild workout.
  • In men who smoke, the reduced blood flow can also affect their manhood, leading to an increase in the likelihood of impotency.
  • In women, it can lead to difficulty conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby. Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances of miscarriage, premature birth or delivering a low-birth-weight baby.
  • As mentioned, smoking causes the skin to lose its elasticity. This not only occurs on the face, but also on the body.
  • Research has pointed out that smoking is one of the top causes of sagging breasts and flabby underarms.
  • According to WebMD, compared to nonsmokers, smokers are more likely to develop oral cancer. Smokers who are also heavy drinkers are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer.
  • But all is not lost, doctors say quitting smoking lowers the risk of oral cancer substantially within a few years.
  • While most women experience this in their twilight years, a study has found that on average, women who smoke reach menopause 1.5 years earlier than those who don't.
  • The longer you have smoked and the more you smoke, the stronger this effect is likely to be, the study said.
  • Smoking gives your fingernails and skin of your hands a yellowish tint. It doesn't stop there. Smokers are more likely to develop bad breath, gum disease and other oral hygiene issues.
  • Still think smoking is sexy? Think how sexy you'll look with a gaping smile. Smokers are twice as likely to lose teeth than non-smokers.

Currently, the action of hiding graphic warnings on cigarette packs on purpose cannot be punished by law.

Earlier this month, 11 lawmakers including Rep. Kim Seung-hee of the ruling Liberty Korea Party proposed a revision to the National Health Promotion Act, so shops who intentionally hide graphic warnings on cigarette packs would be punished by law and fined.

The ministry is also moving to revise the current regulation on the graphic warnings.

"I think it is little hasty to be looking at the results of the graphic warnings attached on the cigarette packs, since products with the altered design have not even been fully distributed to stores across the country (yet)," said a ministry official from the national health promotion division.

"Unlike sharp hikes in tobacco prices, the graphic warnings are meant to change people's way of thinking and mindsets, which may take a longer period of time to result in an actual fall in the smoking rate.

"But if necessary, the ministry will discuss the size of the graphic warnings and expand them to become more noticeable by revising the current law," he added.

For now, the graphic health warnings must be placed on the upper part of both sides of cigarette packets. The photos are required to cover more than 30 per cent of both sides of each packet, the ministry said.

Under the law, the graphics will be replaced every 24 months and a notice about the next 10 photos will be announced six months ahead of the replacement. 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.

Anti-smoking campaigns that use such visual images were first introduced in Canada in 2001. Such practices are currently adopted by 101 countries around the world.