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[FOUNTAIN]Face It: It's Time to Quit

May 31,2001
Tobacco was a gift from the native Americans to Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, and it later spread to Europe. At that time, tobacco was thought to treat all kinds of diseases and was used medicinally by European aristocrats. They even forced children to smoke cigarettes. A century later in 1592, when Japan invaded Korea, the Japanese introduced tobacco to the peninsula.

There is a saying that "Europeans introduced American Indians to alcohol, and tobacco is the Indian's revenge." The saying may have been coined a long time ago, but considering the evils caused by tobacco and alcohol use, which have become global social problems, particularly in the Third World, it is still relevant.

Tobacco has since been discovered to yield no health benefits at all. Smoke from tobacco contains over 4,000 poisonous chemical substances, 20 of which are primary carcinogens, doctors warn. Because of this, tobacco is considered the main cause of many adult cancers and other diseases. Smokers are 17 times more likely than non-smokers to get lung cancer. Recently, it was reported that smoking is the main cause of sudden death among middle-aged men.

As a result, smokers are no longer welcome in many parts of the world. Since people have realized that second-hand smoke is also dangerous to health, smokers have become more and more isolated. In the United States, smoking is unthinkable in public places or buildings. It is an irony that in the United States, the world's largest producer of cigarettes, smoking is barely tolerated. But what can we do? Even in Europe, which is friendlier to smokers, it is getting more and more difficult to light up.

The government and ruling party have decided to raise the price of cigarettes to fill a hole in medical insurance finances. They plan to increase the contribution made to a health promotion fund from the purchase of each pack of cigarettes to between 100 won (8 cents) and 170 won from the current 2 won. Could they have figured that their move could not be loudly protested, as the anti-smoking morality is on their side?

Of course, most regular smokers will keep puffing in spite of the price hike. But it will be a big deal for the farmers now busy irrigating their rice fields, cracked like a turtle's backs from lack of rain, and the construction workers who live from hand to mouth. For these men, smoking is one of life's few pleasures. The politicians don't seem to have them in mind.

Anyway, the only escape from this unfairness is to quit smoking right away. Well, Thursday happened to be World No Tobacco Day.



The writer is Berlin correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik




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