Smokers have rights, too

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Smokers have rights, too


Smokers never get any pity. While other groups like migrant workers or sexual minorities receive care and attention to a certain degree, smokers never get to complain about the prejudice against them. World No Tobacco Day was on May 31. From June, smoking in parks, plazas and bus stops in Seoul is banned with a fine of up to 100,000 won ($85) imposed on violators. Yangcheon District has developed a smartphone application to report littering cigarette butts. Seoul plans to ban smoking in all restaurants by 2014. Seoul is not the only place where smoking is prohibited. Some 85 local governments have implemented a ban on street smoking.

In retrospect, the smokers had their good old days. King Jeongjo declared that he would like to share tobacco with the people in order to enjoy the benefits together and appreciate the love of Mother Nature. About 30 years ago, we used to be able to smoke on the local buses. In 1980, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs began driving the smokers into a designated section on express buses. At the time, female college students smoked in public to advocate gender equality.

Seo Myeong-suk, the director of Jeju Olle, published a book titled “Cruel History of a Female Smoker,” documenting her 27 years of smoking before she quit in 2004.

“I was arrested for my involvement in student movements, and when the interrogator found a pack of cigarettes on me, he called me a ‘smoking whore.’ But the police offered cigarettes to male students, and I realized how a cigarette had different meanings for men and women,” she wrote. Seo found it funny that just as women finally get to smoke in public without being scorned, both male and female smokers became the public enemy.

If you smoke in the bathroom or out on the balcony of your apartment, the neighbors will surely complain. Smokers are a minority unworthy of pity in other countries as well. Japan was known to be tolerant of smokers, but nowadays, smoking is prohibited on major city streets. In January of 1994, a 3-year-old girl nearly lost her vision when a lit cigarette hit her in the eye at Funabashi Station in Chiba Prefecture, and Japan became increasingly concerned about smoking in public places ever since. You have to travel to the back alley to find a designated smoking room, and when you enter the glass-enclosed room, you are faced with scary warnings: “You are holding your cigarette as high as a child’s eyes.”

As I came down to the yard in my apartment complex and lit my cigarette, I found another flickering light on the other side. We bonded instantly.

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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