South Korea’s top court ruled the tobacco business act constitutional on Monday, saying that there was no proof that smoking always caused lung cancer.
The ruling came amid a heated public debate over whether smoking should be seen as a serious public health threat or a matter of individual’s rights.
In a 7-to-2 decision, the Constitutional Court ruled against nine petitioners, saying that the legislation does not infringe on an individual’s right to health because there is no definite link between habitual smoking and lung cancer.
“It is hard to tell there is (such) a strong correlation between habitual smoking and lung cancer,” said the court in the ruling. “Even though there is a correlation, it is not enough to force the government to step in to ban tobacco businesses because lung cancer stems from diverse factors.”
The court added that the government had paid due attention to public health, noting that it has been closely watching the tobacco industry and mandated the companies to put cautionary images or warnings on cigarette packs.
In 2012, the petitioners, including lung-cancer patients and medical experts, filed a lawsuit against the nation arguing that the legislation is unconstitutional because it enables the government to allow legal sales of tobacco products that undermine public health.
Park Jae-Gahb, one of the petitioners and a professor at National Cancer Center, expressed his frustration over the ruling. “Smoking is closely related to diseases like lung-cancer and it is a medically proven fact. Banning the tobacco business is the ultimate solution,” he said.
In the meantime, state health insurer, National Health Insurance Service, has continued its lawsuit against tobacco companies. The fourth hearing, slated for May 15, will discuss whether the companies should pay the insurers damages for tobacco-related diseases.
Mindful of the mounting public criticism, the government has rolled out a package of antismoking measures. Last year, the authority increased the price of cigarette by 2,000 won per pack.
The government is also pushing to enact a law that mandates tobacco companies to put warning images to highlight the dangers of smoking. The legislation will be discussed at the National Assembly’s extra session in May.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)