No-smoking policies push puffers into other areas

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No-smoking policies push puffers into other areas

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Office workers take to the street on July 4 in Seodaemun District, central Seoul, to smoke. As the government implements a strict ban on indoor smoking, smokers are forced into the street. By Kang Jung-hyun

“Fire! There’s a fire!”

Ban Jae-yeol, a 67-year-old mechanic at an auto-repair shop, was aghast when he turned around and saw flames shooting up from a pile of used tires around 3 p.m. on June 14.

Air rushed out of the outdoor unit of an air conditioner just in time to fan the flames.

Ban burned his hand on the melted rubber when he tried to save the tires. The flames went down only after using an entire fire extinguisher.

“If we were a little bit slower, the situation would have gotten out of control,” Ban said.

Ban was certain that the fire was started by a cigarette butt littered by workers from the nearby companies. His shop is close to an office building.

Smokers avoid smoking right in front of their office and instead come to the back alley close to Ban’s shop.

“It’s really stressful when people come smoke here and indiscriminately throw away their butts,” Ban said.

After the incident, he posted a sign saying “Don’t litter cigarettes. Don’t litter trash,” but it was of no use.

He even put out a trash bag, but every day cigarette butts pile up.

“As a final measure I put out a big flower pot, but smokers just moved further into the alley.”

As all the corporations promote overall prohibition of indoor smoking, vendors and residents are suffering from the aftermath.

A janitor named Kim at the CJ Corporation headquarters in Jung District, central Seoul, complained, “Flower beds and drains are full of butts and I never saw anybody put their trash in a trash can.”

“It doesn’t make it okay just because they don’t smoke in their own building. They smoke in the peripheral areas and commoners like us suffer from it,” Kim pointed out.

A local resident Chun noted, “I have lived here for 51 years but I can’t stand living here anymore because of CJ employees’ smoking. I appealed to both the company and the district office but it was useless.”

This CJ Corporation building, recently built in December 2010, is enforcing the most intense anti-smoking policy of all the other buildings near the corporation.

When CJ strengthened its anti-smoking policy in July last year, they closed down indoor smoking rooms and created a large, 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) no-smoking buffer zone around the building.

The company said strengthened oversight was needed because if employees are smoking near the building it will drive customers away. But the measure is causing more harm to the neighborhood.

The situation is the same for Posco, the nation’s leading steelmaker. In 2010, Posco cooperated with the Gangnam District Office and turned the neighboring area of the company building at Daechi neighborhood into a nonsmoking district.

A 72-year-old taxi driver named Hwang said, “Smoking right in front of the building on the sidewalk is illegal but smoking on the street is not. I’m often startled when I see people walking into the street.”

On June 25 at a convenience store near Samsung Electronics in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, a sign was posted on the door saying “We no longer offer cigarette lockers.”

The lockers were a new strategy invented by Samsung smokers after the area surrounding the semiconductor department was declared a non-smoking area in April this year.

At the time, the parking lot, dormitories and gyms were all designated nonsmoking areas. The workers even had their belongings examined when they entered the area.

The workers adapted by storing their cigarettes at a convenience store. Right next to the tables where people used to eat instant ramen, lockers were full of cigarette cases labeled with the name of the owners and their departments.

“There are a lot of annoying incidents in which high school students sneak in and steal those cigarettes,” said the owner of the convenience store.

“We are not charging any extra fee for storage but my reputation can go bad if cigarettes keep going missing. I am going to get rid of the lockers by this month.”

A Samsung employee surnamed Kim expressed concerns when he visited the convenience store after lunch. “This is the only way I can smoke, so if this locker disappears, I don’t know what I am going to do”

Some smokers even store cigarettes in their car. Nam, a 40-year-old worker in the Giheung business district, explained “Walking all the way out of the buffer zone to smoke takes up to 40 minutes, so I’d rather smoke in my car. When I get caught with cigarettes or lighters at the security desk, I have to write a statement of reason as punishment.”

Another 34-year-old Samsung employee named Jin noted, “Cigarettes without tinfoil aren’t detected easily. So the cigarette brand ‘The One’ is very popular.”

A 37-year-old female resident at Dongtan Lotte Castle Apartment right across from Samsung Electronics’ Hwaseong business district commented, “I often see Samsung employees come and go in a big group and smoke and spit on the streets. Whenever I pass them by, it is very unpleasant. Forbidding smoking only at their own workplace is making it worse for others.”

The CCTVs installed in the non-smoking areas also turned out to be useless. Finally, the residents at the apartment made a plea to the district office last month.

An employee named Kim said, “We cannot work without smoking. I understand the anti-smoking policy, but considering the residents’ concerns, it would be best if the company provided an indoor smoking space.”

Starting from July, smoking at restaurants, bars and cafes with an area of more than 150 square meters (1,614 square feet) is completely prohibited. As a result, smokers all come outside but no specific measure is made to deal with the problem.

Another representative example is near Soonwha Tower in Jung District, central Seoul, where smokers gather around the streets nearby.

“Until last year, it was SK Construction Corporation, the permanent occupant of the tower, which adopted the anti-smoking policy. But recently, new companies move in and out and it seems like all the workers from nearby offices come here to smoke,” said the building’s disaster prevention team leader.

Littered cigarettes overwhelmed the flowerbed so he put out a trashcan. But that only made it worse. People treated the area as a public smoking place.

Last month, “no smoking” stickers were placed all the around the tower.

Three “anti-smoking CCTV” signs were set up outside the building but produced no significant effect.

A person surnamed Kim who works on the second floor of the building said, “I can’t even open up the windows because of the smoke coming in from outside.”

“The first objective of the anti-smoking policy should be to prevent an impact on other people’s lives. Public places such as a building entrance should be considered a non-smoking area just like the inside of a building,” said Professor Cho Sung-il at the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University.

But there are a lot of opinions that call for an installation of a proper smoking space for those concerned instead of just forcefully driving them out.

“Recent anti-smoking policy is restricting smokers unconditionally, thus inflicting a person’s right to smoke, which is a basic constitutional right,” said Professor Kim Sung-soo at Yonsei Law School.

“Rather than just victimizing smokers, the government should adopt a separate anti-smoking policy and should install smoking places in outdoor public areas and business areas.”

Lee Yeon-ik, the representative of a smoker’s community called “I Love Smoking,” said, “We smokers also agree on the main purpose of the anti-smoking policy. But in order to minimize the harm from secondhand smoke, a smoking space is urgently needed at restaurants and public spaces.”

“The conflict between smokers and nonsmokers will be easily solved if smoking rooms are built using the annual fee for health promotion which is up to 1.7 trillion won [$1.49 billion],” the smoker suggested.

According to Chae Soo-un, the health living team leader at Gangnam District Office, it is “possible to have a built-in smoking room at a sealed place” or “on the rooftop even at a building designated for nonsmoking” under the Health Promotion Law.

In Japan, the government is providing restaurants or hotels with a subsidy that covers 25 percent of the cost of installing smoking rooms.



BY MIN KYUNG-WON, SHIN HAE-WON [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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