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South Korea's plan to ban smoking in public goes back to square 1

SEOUL: South Korea appeared to be taking a step closer to completely banning smoking in public with its move to outlaw lighting up on the streets.

But its recent decision to delay the scheme is only deepening the dispute between smokers and non-smokers.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the anti-smoking policy raised by the Seoul Metropolitan Council to ban all smoking on the streets recently went back to square one due to practical issues.

"Despite the public giving a nod to banning public smoking, we came to review the plan as it is difficult to define what public smoking is in practice.

"The (definition of the) place for public smoking is too broad and blurred, so instead we may designate more non-smoking areas," said a Seoul City official in charge of the citizen's health bureau.

The city government's anti-tobacco move was initially praised by non-smoking groups.

According to a poll conducted by the city in August, almost nine in 10 citizens agreed with the policy to completely ban smoking in public. Only 7 per cent opposed it.

There are 17,500 public areas where smoking is now prohibited, including some 3,400 areas close to education facilities such as kindergartens and day-care centres.

About 6,800 bus stops, 1,700 subway exits, 1,700 parks and squares are also designated as non-smoking areas.

In addition, 57 streets in areas with heavy foot traffic, including Insa-dong and part of Gangnamdaero, are now no-smoking zones, and violators face fines of up to 100,000 won (S$124).

There are also another 23,900 indoor locations - buildings of public offices, restaurants, hospitals and some apartments - designated as smoke-free zones.

The city plans to add more non-smoking areas next year.

While no-smoking areas multiply, the city has been slow to introduce "safe" places to smoke.

At present, there are only 43 outdoor smoking booths installed in public places across the capital. - THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

WORLD