[PRO] Everyone benefits from a ban

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[PRO] Everyone benefits from a ban

*Expansion of smoke-free zones is desirable

On Dec. 8, the enforcement ordinance and regulations of the Health Promotion Act took effect, designating restaurants, bars and coffee shops larger with a seating capacity of 150 or more as smoke-free zones. The ban on smoking will expand to restaurants of 100 or more capacity in 2014 and all restaurants in 2015. Opponents argue that the new restrictions ignore the rights of smokers, while supporters say they simply protect those who don’t light up.

Smokers have been pushed into a corner. They used to smoke in the living room, but they were driven to their balconies about 10 years ago. In my apartment building, it is easy to find people bundled up against the cold in order to smoke in the garden or corridor. It is a difficult time to be a smoker.

On Dec. 8, smoking was banned in all restaurants, cafes and bars with a capacity of 150 people or more, and smokers complain that the ban is a violation of their rights. They protest that not being able to smoke at the bars is unfair. While some support them, smokers’ rights already are protected as long as their behavior does not infringe on the rights of others not to be exposed to secondhand smoke.

We all have the right to sing, but we are not allowed to sing loudly in public places, such as a bus or a train. Cigarette smoke contains all kinds of carcinogens, and even a brief exposure could be dangerous for those suffering from respiratory conditions or heart disease.

There is no grounds for defending secondhand smoke. If you believe you can force other people to inhale cancer-causing agents at bars and restaurants so you can enjoy your cigarettes, you are incredibly arrogant. Secondhand smoke is harmful to everyone around you. If you are not considerate of friends and family who accompany you to a restaurant, it is a serious problem.

Fortunately, Korean citizens are well-informed on the dangers of secondhand smoke. However, a common misunderstanding is that secondhand smoke is more harmful than smoking. The smoker experiences both direct and indirect smoke, while those nearby inhale smoke indirectly. Nevertheless, the smoker has no right to force nonsmokers to endure the harmful smoke just because smoking is even more harmful to the smoker.

The smoking ban is an appropriate, if limited, measure to protect nonsmoking patrons of restaurants, bars and cafes. Since the ban will be gradually expanded to eventually include all restaurants, small establishments currently are not affected. We have to wait until Jan. 1, 2015, for all restaurants, bars and cafes to become smoke-free.

It is hard to understand why the enforcement of the smoking ban should be postponed until then. There is no precedent for gradually expanding the ban based on the size of the restaurants in any other country that designate eateries as smoke-free zones.

Also, the delay causes people to be skeptical about the effectiveness of the ban. Starting next July, smoking in a restaurant with a ban is subject to a minimum fine of 100,000 won ($93.08), and the owner who does not display no-smoking signs or inform customers is subject to a fine of 1.7 million to 5 million won. Without sufficient manpower to enforce the law, the ban may not be observed. So the government needs to secure the resources to crack down on violations.

Today, no smoker dares to smoke on a bus or train. They are not afraid of control agents, but of the people around them. The smoking ban for restaurants, bars and cafes may sound unfamiliar now, but in a few years no one will dare to light their cigarettes.

Koreans know the consequences of secondhand smoke better than anyone. And the expansion of smoke-free zones makes it more inconvenient and uncomfortable for smokers and encourages them to quit. In the end, the policy will benefit not only nonsmokers, but smokers as well. Smokers might not be aware of the benefit, but their friends and family members surely will be.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is the president of the Korea Association of Smoking and Health.
By Seo Hong-gwan
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