S. Korea may require graphic anti-smoking photos on cigarette packs

February 25, 2015
(Yonhap)

The proposal comes despite the fact that the government has made 11 attempts to put similar measures in place since 2002. According to the plan, tobacco makers will have to put warning photos and phrases on more than 50 percent of cigarette packs, and the photos must cover at least 30 percent of the packaging. (Yonhap)

By Kim Rahn

Tobacco makers here may have to print warning photos on cigarette packs from the latter half of next year.

A National Assembly panel will today put the government’s plan to make it obligatory for tobacco makers to print graphic anti-smoking warnings to a vote at a plenary session this month.

If the Assembly passes the plan during the session, the photo warnings will become mandatory after an 18-month grace period, according to the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee.

The proposal comes despite the fact that the government has made 11 attempts to put similar measures in place since 2002.

According to the plan, tobacco makers will have to put warning photos and phrases on more than 50 percent of cigarette packs, and the photos must cover at least 30 percent of the packaging.

Executives of cigarette firms violating the measure would face up to a year in jail or up to 10 million won in fines, and the firms could be deprived of their licenses.

The Health and Welfare Ministry will decide what types of graphics will be available, such as damaged lungs and rotten teeth.

A phrase warning against secondhand smoking will also be added, such as “Your smoking may damage others’ health,” a ministry official said.

“The nation cannot delay introducing warning photos anymore, as such warnings are one of the most effective anti-smoking measures across the world,” the official said.

As of January of last year, 55 countries adopted or were planning to adopt such visual warning systems, according to the ministry.

The system has been proven effective in many countries: Canada’s smoking rate dropped from 24 to 18 percent in six years after the adoption; and Brazil, from 31 percent to 22.4 percent in one year, the ministry said.

Korea adopted the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which recommends graphic warnings.

Korean male adults’ smoking rate was 42.5 percent in 2013, according to a ministry report. According to the OECD’s Health Data 2014, the smoking rate of Korean men age 15 or older was 37.6 percent, the second-highest following Greece.

Earlier this year, the government raised tobacco prices by 2,000 won per pack in an effort to reduce the smoking rate.

“Through the price hike and warning photos, we aim to lower Korea’s male adult smoking rate to 29 percent, the OECD average, by 2020,” the official said.

Anti-smoking groups welcomed the move, but expressed regret over the grace period.

“We welcome the photo warning adoption,” Seo Hong-gwan, president of the Korean Association on Smoking or Health, said. “But the 18-month grace period is too long. The nation may not need that much time as there are many examples in other countries.”

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