No-smoking areas keep shifting, sow confusion

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No-smoking areas keep shifting, sow confusion

The areas around Seoul’s subway station exits were designated non-smoking zones by the Seoul Metropolitan Government on May 1. The new ordinance will apply to all 1,673 subway station exits in Seoul and people caught smoking in those places will be fined up to 100,000 won ($87) starting in September.

In Haengdang-dong, Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, at 2:00 p.m. last Monday, a company employee wearing a suit and a university student were smoking in front of Wangsimni Station exit 2 when two officials from the Seongdong District Office approached them.

“Starting from September,” warned one of the officials, “you’ll have to pay about 100,000 won for smoking.”

The smokers angrily remonstrated, but eventually put out their cigarettes.

According to the city government’s new policy, smoking within 10 meters of a designated subway station exits is prohibited. Many people in the city, however, are unaware of the new initiative.

“It’s difficult to smoke in Wangsimni Plaza,” complained one employee surnamed Kim, 54. “And there are too few places for smokers.”

In addition to subway station exits, smoking is also being banned in an increasing number of city squares, parks and bus stations. Indeed, the number of non-smoking zones has increased over 25 times from 670 in 2011 to about 1.6 million in March 2016.

The city’s crackdown on public smoking started in 2011 when it prohibited smoking near the Cheonggye River and in Gwanghwamun Plaza. That same year, the Gwanak District Office in southern Seoul designated five subway stations in the district, including the Seoul National University Station, as non-smoking areas.

“Seoul National University Station was the first station to become a non-smoking zone,” said an official from the Gwanak District Office, “because a lot of people, including university students, use the station.”

Later in 2012, the Seocho District Office also restricted smoking in a few outdoor places, as well. According to the Seoul office, it banned smoking in PC rooms in 2013 and in restaurants in 2014.

Some, however, criticized the city’s extended restrictions on smoking as discriminatory toward smokers.

“The places where I can smoke,” said one worker surnamed Byun, 38, “can be barely found. I’m even thinking of quitting smoking.”

Smokers are becoming more anxious as more companies are voluntarily banning smoking in their own buildings. “Due to the company’s regulations, smoking areas in the building were reduced from two to one,” said one employee surnamed Lee, 33, who works near Gwanghwamun Plaza. “I have to smoke discreetly now.”

The percentage of male smokers decreased from 42 percent in 2011 to 38.5 percent in 2014, according to statistics from the Seoul office. This decrease is twice as high as that from 2008 to 2010, before the city banned smoking in several outdoor areas.

Critics believe the city should more effectively carry out its existing restrictions. “In Jamsil Baseball Stadium, smoking is banned entirely,” said an official from the Songpa District Office, southeastern Seoul. “But people still smoke inside the stadium.”

BY CHO JIN-HYUNG, KIM HYEON-JAE [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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