At bus stops, light up if you like - until Sept.Kwak Myeong-hyun, a 17-year-old high school student in Seoul, often gets frustrated while waiting for a public bus in the nation’s capital. Not because there’s a delay or a numbingly cold wind. Rather, Kwak gets agitated when she has to wait for the bus next to someone who is smoking.
“I don’t like it one bit,” she said. “I don’t know why people keep on smoking when it’s clearly prohibited at bus stops.”
Many locals have found themselves asking the same question, as the overriding perception is that lighting up at bus stops is a violation of a city ordinance enacted in 2008 to discourage smoking.
Numerous bus stops around town prominently display signs declaring them nonsmoking areas.
Before you berate the smoker standing next to you, however, it would be a good idea to brush up on the law: people can in fact puff away at bus stops, according to the ordinance.
“What citizens don’t know is that people are ‘encouraged’ not to smoke at bus stops in Seoul rather than prohibited,” said lawyer Jung Kyu-cheol. “Currently, there is no legal punishment whatsoever for people who smoke at bus stops in Seoul. It is totally lawful to smoke there.”
But change is on the horizon, according to Shin Cha-su, an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare. A new ordinance is scheduled to go into effect starting Sept. 1 that allows the city to appoint specific bus stops as nonsmoking and fine people who disobey.
“We are planning on designating some 295 bus stops along central lanes in downtown Seoul as nonsmoking areas, and we will gradually increase the number of smoking-prohibited stops over time,” Shin said. “People who are caught smoking at bus stops by police patrolling the areas will have to pay a fine of 100,000 won ($88).”
And starting next January, 5,715 bus stops, 1,024 neighborhood parks and areas within a 50-meter(164-feet) radius of all elementary, middle and high schools in the capital will also be designated as nonsmoking zones starting next January, according to Yonhap News Agency. The fine will be 100,000 won.
Reaction to the new ordinance is mixed, but many locals - including some smokers - support the decision.
“I totally agree that we should have nonsmoking bus stops,” said Kim Seong-tae, a taxi driver in Seoul. “Although I am a smoker myself, I think nonsmokers have a right to choose whether or not they inhale poisonous cigarette smoke.”
Choi Chang-mok, the head of the Anti-Smoking Institute of Korea, said he is optimistic about the new law, adding that banning smoking in certain areas outdoors is a significant step.
“It shows that Seoul, and furthermore Korea, has begun to take measures in order to fight smoking.” he said.
Other observers, however, think it’s more of a public relations move that will have little effect in the real world.
An anonymous Internet blogger who smokes said the new ordinance is doomed to fail unless the government makes laws that dictate where people can smoke.
“Smokers will find new ways to keep smoking if there are laws that are only concerned with nonsmoking areas,” the blogger wrote.
*This article was written with the assistance of staff reporter Seo Ji-eun.
By Jung Ye-ji [email@example.com]