S. Korea eyes graphic health warnings on tobacco packs

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The South Korean government plans to require tobacco firms to put graphic images illustrating the health hazards of smoking on their packages beginning early next year.

The packages will also have to contain detailed information of tobacco ingredients and will not be allowed to feature words deemed to mislead consumers about smoking's health effects.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday it plans to issue a public notification of the revised National Health Promotion Law this month as part of its campaign to curb smoking.

"The ministry plans to consult with related ministries this month. We aim to put the new law into effect early next year after the National Assembly's approval this year," a ministry official said.

Currently 23 nations including the U.S., the U.K., Brazil, Canada and Hong Kong require similar stark visual warnings on cigarette packages, the official said.

The graphic warnings may be effective, according to a government analysis.

In Canada, 24 percent of people smoked in 2000, but after the introduction of the images on cigarette packaging the figure decreased to 22 percent in 2001 and more so in the following years.

Phrases such as "mild" and "light" will be banned from the packages. Marketing at any places other than those selling cigarettes will also be banned.

The revisions also state that cigarette firms should reveal information on harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

The current Tobacco Business Law rules that some information of the tobacco ingredients such as nicotine and tar content should be printed on the packages. However, tobacco companies do not need to release information on the hundreds of other additives and substances contained in cigarettes.

A bill to introduce graphic warnings has been stuck in the National Assembly for almost five years civic groups claim, due to lobbying by the tobacco industry.

"The ministry expects the 19th National Assembly to understand the purpose of the revisions as there are more concerted efforts made by the public to reduce the negative effects of smoking," the official said.

A survey of 1,000 Seoul residents in January showed that 80 percent of respondents approved of banning smoking on the street.

The government has expanded areas designated as smoke-free to public places, such as parks and bus stops, and also to some privately owned buildings.

Korea, a member of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, hosts its general congress in November.

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