PC room owners protest law, demand revision
As early as late next year, a nationwide smoking ban will be imposed on all PC and billiard rooms, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Friday as a related bill passed the National Assembly.
According to the ministry, the revision also covers public organization buildings, tourist attractions, large concert halls, sports stadiums, playgrounds for children, public baths, swimming pools. The authorities are also considering imposing fines on smokers at such locations.
People use computers at an Internet cafe in Seoul. (Yonhap News)
Stricter regulations on cigarette promotion will be sought and a health tax will be levied on electronic cigarettes.
However, the law is expected to trigger impassioned resistance from PC room owners, who have been heavily dependent on customers who enjoy smoking while playing online games.
The operators of affected facilities will be required to install smoking zones with cutting edge ventilation, like those installed at airports and cinemas. Since the installations are expected to cost hundreds of millions of won (hundred of thousands of dollars), the regulation will be a de facto ban for many places.
Currently, the central government bans smoking inside large buildings. Several local governments have ordinances imposing fines on smoking outdoors. But the tightened regulation will protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke nearly everywhere, said ministry official Chun Man-bok.
“According to a study by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs in 2009, about 83.9 percent of teenagers have visited PC rooms and a large number of them are regular visitors. The ban will protect the teenagers from being exposed to a smoking environment,” he said.
The revision also requires cigarette companies to reduce the number of advertisements in the print media to less than 10 times year from the current 60. Tobacco firms will not be able to advertise herb, menthol and fruit-flavored additives on packaging or adverts, to prevent “curious” women and teenagers from taking up smoking.
E-cigarettes will be taxed at 221-won per gram of nicotine, as the World Health Organization has recently defined them as a tobacco source rather than a smoking cessation aid.
“We hope people would take the law as promotion of public etiquette for health purposes rather than a regulation. Smoking definitely damages one’s health and threatens lives,” Chun said.
A group of billiard room owners in Seoul have requested that lawmakers add their business facilities as no-smoking zones to enhance their images as family-friendly facilities.
On the other hand, PC room owners have slammed the revision. Currently, the rooms are divided into smoking and non-smoking zones but users have complained that poor ventilation spreads cigarette smoke into both areas.
“If the law comes into force I will have no other option but to shut down the shop,” said a PC room owner surnamed Choi in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province.
“People are restrained from smoking at their offices and homes, and they seek refuge at PC rooms, playing games while smoking. It cost tens of millions of won to install a smoke-proof non-smoking section.”
The owners staged protests in front of the parliament building last week and said they would continue to fight the revision.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)