In no-smoking debate, Korea parallels Germany

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In no-smoking debate, Korea parallels Germany

From January, smoking will be banned in all restaurants and bars, a move similar to Germany’s health act in 2007 that prohibited smoking at alcoholic establishments, making enclosed smoking booths inside the exception.

The German government soon faced strong opposition from bar owners and customers, however, who claimed that the act was unfair, especially for bars smaller than 65 square meters (700 square feet) that could not set up the required booths.

The following year, the Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that the measure was unconstitutional, citing that the exceptional clause concerning smoking booths didn’t cover all bars.

Yet, the decision still did not put an end to the controversy, and even sparked a fierce public and political debate. Non-smokers emphasized the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and suggested a social debate. Some political parties supported the non-smokers and public opinion also shifted that way, just as in Korea now.

In 2010, the issue was put to a referendum, and the health act came into effect again, with 61 percent of voters supporting the designation of non-smoking zones.

“When discussing the designation of non-smoking zones, the Germans also mulled over how non-smokers should consider smokers and how smokers should change,” said Professor Lee Sang-hak, who teaches law at Daegu University.

“Such discussions decreased people’s resistance, and related measures could be applied in society. It took Germans more time to designate non-smoking zones, but I heard there is little opposition to the regulations, thanks to the whole process.”

The situation in Germany seven years ago is, indeed, similar to the current situation in Korea, which is about to ban all indoor smoking and allow separate smoking booths as an exception. But small bars here have also complained, just like in Germany.

The Korea Smokers Association and other smoking organizations are considering filing a constitutional lawsuit to cancel the non-smoking regulation that starts next year.

The Constitutional Court of Korea in 2004 admitted that citizens had the right to smoke, saying that it was related to an individual’s pursuit of happiness and privacy, though the right to refuse exposure to smoke has priority.

The expansion of no-smoking zones in Korea has largely been considered too fast and one-sided and many smokers have improvised new smoking spots alongside large-scale no-smoking zones, such as on Gangnam-daero or in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, causing a secondary inconvenience to non-smokers.

“We must have a discussion first based on cases in European countries where they had similar situations,” Lee said.


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