[LETTERS]Government too passive on smoking

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[LETTERS]Government too passive on smoking

Seeing people smoke in public spaces like bus stops, sidewalks, restaurants and even parks is commonplace. Regardless of the inconvenience they are causing for those around them, smokers usually continue to smoke. According to a survey by the Ministry for Health, Welfare an Family Affairs, two out of three people have experienced second-hand smoke.

To comply with the growing demands for governmental control over public smoking, the Korean government recently started an anti-smoking campaign called the “Say No Movement.” The campaign encourages non-smokers to tell smokers not to smoke in public. However, such governmental efforts do not seem to be paying off. Despite the crusade against public smoking, still a number of people are suffering from second-hand smoke. Therefore, it is time for the government to step forward and control public smoking with strict regulations.

Smoking is harmful to both smokers and second-hand smokers. Studies of the effects of second-hand smoke on health show increased risks for heart and lung disease, and various illnesses for people constantly exposed to second-hand smoking. In fact, second-hand smoking increases the risks of lung cancer by 24 percent and heart disease by 25 percent. It can also make your blood more likely to clot which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, angina, or heart failure.

Furthermore, people often find it offensive to be around people who smoke in public because they don’t have much choice but to inhale such toxic fumes. This is especially true in crowded streets when walking behind a person who smokes, as the smoke and ash seem to be invading the personal space of people walking behind the smokers. Moreover, it makes non-smokers frustrated when the smell of tobacco gets into their clothes and hair. This is surely unfair to non-smokers who do not choose to take the risks associated with smoking.

Smoking in public can also encourage others to become smokers. This is especially true for teenagers who are likely to imitate what they see. A large portion of teenage smokers say that they started smoking out of curiosity after seeing an actual smoker. Smokers who are trying to quit, are also influenced by public smoking. Their determination not to smoke falters when recalling the sweet taste and smell of cigarettes which they were once addicted to.

Considering the individual and social impact public smoking can make, strong measures should be taken. The government should, first and foremost, prohibit smoking in public. There should be great disadvantages for those who violate the regulation. Smokers should only smoke in designated places, but if they infringe, they should have to pay consequences.

Some smokers wonder why public smoking is such a big deal and insist that it is their right to enjoy what they like in a democratic society. This assertion is true as long as such behavior does not invade the rights of others. After all, non-smokers have the right to breathe clean air as much as the smokers have the right to smoke. However, the current Say No Movement which merely expects individuals to change their attitude, is not sufficient. It may be effective in the long run but isn’t much hope for those suffering from unwanted smoke.

Chung Hee-jin, Seoul National University

*e-mail to eopinion@joongang.co.kr or via fax to 82-2-751-9219
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