A lawsuit against the country’s tobacco companies, which has drawn attention because it was the first of its kind, has come to an end. The court ruled against the lung cancer patients and their families, the plaintiffs in the case. The court said it could accept that there is a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer but decided it is impossible to prove that smoking was the direct cause of the plaintiffs’ disease.
We respect the court’s ruling, even though smoking is, irrefutably, very harmful. The court could not determine that smoking was the only cause of the plaintiffs’ lung cancer. Each plaintiff had lived in a different environment and had a different medical history. It took seven years and four months, and the court’s composition has changed four times before this decision was reached, which shows that it was very difficult for the court to reach a verdict. The court did not apply product liability law to the defendant, thus it did not ask whether cigarettes are addictive, whether the company had issued warnings about smoking or whether there was a mistake in the manufacturing process. That is not very different from cases in other countries.
However, this verdict does not grant the cigarette companies free rein. It has long been known that smoking and the second-hand inhalation of tobacco smoke is very harmful. Lung cancer, which smokers are much more likely to develop than non-smokers, is the third most common in Korea after stomach and intestinal cancer, both of which can also be caused by smoking.
Also, there is a serious public health problem in the increasing number of young people who smoke. We cannot simply say smoking is a matter of choice. The more cigarettes are sold, the more the nation’s health is harmed and the more money people must pay for health insurance policies.
KT&G, the public tobacco company, increases its revenues by selling cigarettes and thus damaging the people’s health. The government should not increase its tax revenue by causing deadly, painful diseases.
In other countries, cigarette packets carrying blunt warnings like “smoking kills,” along with details of the toxic agents found in tobacco smoke. The warning on Korea’s packages reads “Smoking harms health. Do you still want to smoke?” That is a weak message. Funds should be allocated to help people quit smoking, anti-smoking legislation should be enhanced and cigarette packets should tell the truth ― smoking is deadly. And a campaign to stop teenagers smoking should be launched across the country.