A group of smokers and restaurant owners have filed a petition with South Korea’s Constitutional Court seeking a review of the constitutionality of a law banning smoking in all restaurants, according to a story in The Korea Times.
Since the start of this year, anyone who smokes inside a restaurant is liable to fines of up to WON100,000 ($90), and its owner is liable to a fine of up to WON1.7 million ($1,500).
The group, comprising members of I Love Smoking, which represents the interests of smokers and some restaurant owners, held a press conference in front of the Constitutional Court on Tuesday where they claimed that the ban infringed their rights.
The group’s leader, Lee Yeon-ik, said many restaurant owners were considering closing down their business altogether because most of their customers had been smokers and customer numbers had plummeted after the ban.
Lee complained that the ban was discriminatory against small- and medium-sized restaurants because smoking was allowed at ‘room salons’. “Rich people can smoke all they want in such places because they can afford to pay that much money,” he said. “Instead, smokers with not a lot of money are being squeezed.”
But perhaps the smoking ban doesn’t matter. According to a separate story in the Times, a survey involving 1,026 people who were smokers last year indicated that 32.3 percent had quit their habit.
The survey by the Korea Press Foundation indicated too that 35.7 percent of smokers had cut down.
And these figures seem to be broadly in line with Ministry of Strategy and Finance figures showing that 170 million packs of cigarettes were sold last month, down by 56 percent from the number sold in December, 390 million.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare raised cigarette prices from WON2,500 ($2.27) to WON4,500 per pack from the start of 2015, and 28.4 percent of those who had quit this year put their quitting down to the price hike. For 50.2 percent the reason comprised health concerns.
For those who reduced their smoking levels, 58.5 percent did so because of the price hike while 25.4 percent cited health reasons.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health expects the number of smokers to decease further once lawmakers pass a bill that will require tobacco manufacturers to print graphic warnings on packs.