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Smoking to be banned at three Seoul plazas

Smoking will be prohibited at three main squares in central Seoul from March and those who break the ban will be fined 100,000 won ($94) from June after a three-month grace period.

Under the city administration’s ordinance putting stricter regulations on outdoor smoking, the no-smoking public areas will be expanded to 23 parks by September and 295 bus stops on central lanes by the end of the year.

The administration will install warning signs around the three squares ― Seoul, Gwanghwamun and Cheonggye ― by the end of this month.

The measure aims to reduce the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke, and the associated health risks.

Currently, large buildings and indoor public areas are designated as smoke-free. Experts are demanding more steps to induce people to quit smoking.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the smoking rate among adults here was 39.6 percent last year, one of the highest among OECD member states. The average smoking rate of 31 member states was 27.3 percent as of the end of 2008.

At today’s prices, buying a pack of cigarettes every day for 40 years would cost around 36.5 million won ($327,000). This adds up to 4 trillion won a year for all smokers nationwide.

The National Health Insurance Corporation estimates 2.7 trillion won is spent annually to treat smoking-related diseases at medical institutions and pharmacies. It reported that 40-something smokers are likely to die some 6.28 years earlier than their non-smoker peers and spend 11.2 million won more to be treated for cerebral vascular diseases.

The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in 2007 calculated the socioeconomic costs of smoking to be 5.6 trillion won including money for treatment, nursing and transportation as well as loss of income and damage from second-hand smoking. It is equivalent to 14 billion won lost a day, the institute said.

In a survey by the Health Ministry of 3,000 randomly-selected adults nationwide last year, the majority picked expansion of non-smoking areas to be the most effective measure against smoking, followed by cigarette price hikes, regulations and public campaigns.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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