Political inaction on cigarette warnings

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Political inaction on cigarette warnings

“This is exactly why the lawmakers are condemned. Who approved the idea of removing the warning label?” asked a reader who responded to a JoongAng Ilbo article about the National Assembly’s decision to remove the health warnings from cigarette packaging.

The National Assembly agreed to remove the clause that requires a warning label and photograph in the revision of the Health Promotion Act on Dec. 1 and passed the bill without repealing it the next day. The government’s proposal for the revision includes two anti-smoking policies approved by the World Health Organization, a price increase and the health warning. One of them has been removed, and the revision is not likely to function properly.

When the cigarette packaging contains pictures of lung cancer and a fetus affected by smoke, smokers are considerably discouraged from smoking. Canada was the first to start in 2000, and 70 countries followed. It is hard to find a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that doesn’t issue health warnings.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has made nine attempts to legislate health warnings since 2002, but the National Assembly opposed it every time. It has never gotten past the Health and Welfare Committee. Cigarette companies are afraid of the warning policy more than the price increase. A price increase could lead to more revenue, but the warning label directly affects cigarette consumption. In Canada, the smoking rate fell from 24 percent to 18 percent over six years following the pictures’ introduction, so cigarette companies didn’t remain quiet. Instead, they take up various lobbying efforts, and this time was no exception.

The ruling and opposition parties claim that the removal of the label was not affected by lobbying by cigarette companies. It was excluded because it was not relevant for it to be included in the tax bill. The Health and Welfare Committee will meet to discuss the matter soon, and it is likely to pass since most of the members support the warning picture. But that sounds like an excuse. The bill that calls for the inclusion of a warning picture is still pending on the Health and Welfare Committee. It was proposed by the Saenuri’s Kim Jae-won in March 2013.

However, it was only submitted to the committee and has not been introduced, instead left to gather dust. The implementation of warning labels is not a policy that costs money. Cigarette companies can just print the picture on the packaging. If the National Assembly really cares about the health of its citizens, it must prove it with action.

The author is a national news writer with the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 33


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