Korea, for better or worse, has long been a smoker’s paradise. You can light up just about anywhere in the ROK with little worry of repercussion either legally or socially.
Well, those days (and nights) are soon coming to an end as the six-month grace period for the country’s strict new public smoking laws come into effect at the end of this month. And when we say strict, we mean strict.
Starting July 1, owners of restaurants, cafes and bars with ground space of more than 150 square meters will be hit with penalties of up to 5 million won (US$4,480) if their customers are found lighting up on the premises.
The first offense by businesses allowing customers to smoke will be 1.7 million won, the second 3.3 million and then the big 5 million won smack-down kicks in for the third.
The government has promised it will not take the law lightly and will begin routine crackdowns once the new regulations take effect, including regular patrols stopping into businesses establishments for a look and sniff of the atmosphere.
Not only are businesses being targeted with fines, but so are the smokers themselves. If caught smoking outside designated public smoking areas, those puffing up will be dinged with a 100,000 won ($89) fine for their nicotine fix.
Internet cafes (PC bangs) are being given an extended grace period to adhere to the new laws and are expected to conform by December 31 of this year. During this period, Internet cafes have the option of setting up a smoking booth separate from the PC area. If they choose not to set up the booth, then the entire cafe will be off-limits to smoking.
Some Internet cafes are complaining that the new regulations could put a serious dent in their cash cow by pushing away online gamers. The problem, they say, is that most online games (such as the ubiquitously popular Starcraft) can’t be paused mid-game to allow players to step outside for a smoke. (Cue violins.)
An association of Internet cafe owners, called the PC Room Owners’ Coalition for Survival, has called on the government to delay enforcement of the law to 2015. The group fears that the smoking ban will force nearly 40 percent of Internet cafe owners out of business.
The Ongoing Trend
This is just one of the many steps the country is taking to curb its smoking problem. Second only to Greece in the OECD, 45 percent of Korean male adults say they smoke. Even Korean kids are smoking in record numbers, with 17 percent of teenage males lighting up after their daily classroom grind.
A number of measures are being enacted to address health concerns:
- Several large Korean companies are using harsh tactics to decrease smoking amongst employees, going so far as to deny promotions to workers who fail a nicotine test.
- Along with making all air force bases off-limits to smoking, the South Korean Air Force has also declared it will not recruit Air Force Academy cadets to be pilots if they are smokers.
- Earlier this month, an Asiana Airlines employee was fired for smoking on the rooftop of one of the company’s branch offices.
- In May, Health and Welfare Minister Chin Young vowed to convince legislators to pass a bill that would require that cigarette packages come with graphic imagery showing the detriments of smoking.
The writing is on the tobacco-stained wall, so light up and enjoy that smoke in public while you can.