Saturday, April 4, 2015

New "No Smoking on the Street" Law

While walking around Dongdaemun Gate, also known as Heunginjimun (designated Treasure No. 1 in Korea), a cat rounded the corner and when I called it, it was friendly enough to approach me, which was very surprising as Koreans don't like cats and can treat them quite brutally at times. They even have a name for the street cat -- it's "thief cat" 도둑고양이. The euphemism represents the sentiment toward the lawlessness of the street cats. Thank goodness that within the last very few years, people here are becoming more open-minded about cats and many are actually having them in their homes, very unlike 15 years ago!

Anyway, the cat never fully approached me. I didn't have food, it saw that, and it sauntered on, but not before I noticed the odd-sized tag with message hanging from its collar, very unusual as cats just don't have collars here. I got a picture, zoomed in, and was really surprised by the message: 

흥인지문 반장 금연 "No Smoking - East Gate Administration Leader"

Even the "thief cats" are now serving the purposes of the government on the new no-smoking-on-the-street law set in place April 1, 2015.

Here's an article published in the Marmot Hole on the new policy set in place just four days ago, on April 1, 2015. And no, the law is not a joke!

Smoking Ban - April 1 No More Fooling Around

On January 1, 2015, South Korea by law completely banned smoking in all bars, restaurants, and cafes (including smoking rooms) regardless of size.  Starting tomorrow, April 1, they’re no longer fooling around:  the three-month grace period on enforcement ends.  Smokers could pay fines of 100,000 won and shop owners up to 5 million won for violating Korea’s anti-smoking law.
Korea has gotten serious about smoking.  
  • In 2012, a World Health Organization (WHO) conference held in Seoul recommended South Korea change its lax laws on smoking and drinking, citing public health issues.  
  • December 2012 - All restaurants and bars were issued one week’s warning that such establishments with a floor area greater than 150 square meters could no longer allow smoking.
  • 2013 - Korean law banned taxi drivers from smoking but did not specify whether their clients could smoke.   
  • June 8, 2013 - PC bangs (PC rooms) became smoke-free zones.  
  • January 1, 2014 - The smoking ban for restaurants and bars with an area exceeding 100 square meters became law.
  • December 12, 2014 - The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the government planned to ban smoking in billiard halls and indoor golf driving ranges in 2015.
  • January 1, 2015 - The ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants, regardless of size, became law.

The backlash has begun.  On March 3, I Love Smoking, an online community representing the largest network of smokers in South Korea, filed at the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the smoking ban in all restaurants, claiming the ban infringes on people’s rights to happiness, suppresses individuals’ rights to run a business, interferes with businesses’ freedom, and interferes with businesses’ rights to profit.  Good luck with that.  In 2011, 299 internet cafe operators filed a complaint against the smoking ban in Internet cafes, and the Constitutional Court upheld the ban.
Regardless and according to Yonhap News,
“The new ban has caused all kinds of conflicts between the restaurant staff and diners who smoke,” (I Love Smoking) said at a press conference held in front of the court in central Seoul. “It has also eaten into business owners’ profits, some to the point of considering closure.” 
The group said as an alternative, the government could prohibit smoking at all restaurants during the day but allow bars and clubs to seat smokers in smoking sections in the evening. 
…The government could use the extra taxes smokers pay toward subsidizing the costs of creating smoking sections at restaurants, which on average cost 10-30 million won (US$9,100-27,000), the group said. 
“Independent restaurants can’t realistically afford the cost without subsidies,” it said.
click to enlarge
South Korea remains among the smokingest nations in the OECD, ranking 13th in the world in cigarette consumption and second, behind Greece, among OECD nations.  Cigarette prices, prior to the tax increase, in South Korea were among the lowest in the world by PPP.  The much needed price increase reflecting the negative externality cost in cigarette consumption and proper use of zoning laws protecting non-smokers, brings Korea in line with laws, trends, and thinking in other OECD countries.  I’m a libertarian minded non-smoker who wonders how Korea’s ajeosshi-packed Constitutional Court will rule let alone why the Constitutional Court would even hear the case.

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