A mean idea, really
Talk about impromptu policy making. Ruling Saenuri Party floor leader Yoo Seong-min in an executive meeting last week before the Lunar New Year holiday floated the idea of marketing tobacco brands that are cheaper than those currently available in Korea. He was responding to complaints by the public after tobacco prices nearly doubled at the beginning of the year.
The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s supreme council member Jun Byung-hyun also said taxes should be reduced on shag, or rolling tobacco. He came up with the idea while speaking with the elderly at a community center. It is pathetic that the policy that senior members of the ruling and opposition parties finally agreed on was cheap tobacco.
The news startled the Health and Welfare Ministry, which had been waging a campaign to reduce smoking. It reiterated that its campaign to improve public health was intact.
The decision also confused the public. The people went along with the sharp spike in tobacco prices because they understood that the higher price was the best way to break the habit. But just two months after the price hike, legislators are fiddling with a policy to introduce cheaper tobacco to help ease the economic burden on the working class. People are wondering if the motivation behind the price hike had really been for public health.
Cheaper tobacco is naturally lower quality and therefore even more hazardous to health. Does that mean low-income or elderly people should inhale low-grade smoke? The price hike has encouraged many to quit smoking. More than 150,000 people have joined various programs at health clinics to quit smoking. If policy makers continue muddling policies with half-baked ideas, people will question and resist public policies no matter what good intentions they may bring. The ruling and opposition parties must stop wasting time and testing public patience and work on serious policies.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 30