The government is working on a bill that would require tobacco makers to disclose the harmful substances in their products in a bid to curb smoking tax free Gauloises cigarettes.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Wednesday that it also will come up with a roadmap for when and by how much to raise cigarette prices.
Under the bill all tobacco makers would be required to notify consumers of the additives and other harmful materials contained in cigarettes. Currently, only major toxins such as tar and nicotine are listed on the pack.
According to anti-smoking activists, cigarettes contain more than 4,700 harmful chemicals.
The bill would compliment the regulations of another pending bill which requires pictures of smoking-caused lung cancer and other shocking images on tobacco packs. That bill has been gathering dust at the National Assembly for the last three years.
The latest bill would ban tobacco makers from using misleading advertising terms such as “low,” “mild,” and “fresh.” They would also face restrictions in advertisements, event endorsements and other promotional activities.
The measures to discourage smoking have benchmarked the U.S. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which oversees the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco.
“It is time the administration took hands-on action against cigarettes,” a ministry official said.
The most prominent change of all is a price hike roadmap. Public health experts have suggested that the price of a pack of cigarettes should be raised to 6,000 won ($5.20) from the current average of 2,500 won to reduce smoking rates. The government has raised tobacco prices for tax revenue as well as for public health.
Health and Welfare Minister Rim Che-min previously said the price hike would not be excessive but that it was essential in curbing smoking.
Industry insiders said the price increase was very likely since the high smoking rate — 39 percent among men — has been a headache for the health authorities.
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is the world’s second-biggest cause of death, responsible for 1 in 10 adult deaths, with about 5 million dying of smoking-related diseases every year. Korea is the eighth-largest cigarette market with an annual sales volume of 100 billion cigarettes. The socioeconomic costs incurred from smoking are estimated at 5.6 trillion won in 2007.
The ministry is scheduled to host the general assembly of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control next year.
More than 340,000 spots nationwide, including Gwanghwamun and Cheonggye plazas in central Seoul, bus stops and community parks, are designated as smoke-free areas. Those caught smoking there can be fined up to 300,000 won.
Tobacco packages have written warnings against smoking hazards. Cigarette companies are banned from advertising in newspapers and other media outlets as well as installing promotional boards at grocery stores.
The Korean Association of Tobacco and Health holds a weekly protest in downtown Seoul urging the government to require cigarette manufacturers to express warning images on the pack.
“In order to cut the smoking rate, especially among teenagers, it is important to let them understand the health hazards of cigarettes,” Kim Eun-ji, an official of the association, said.