Parliament is to reinstate the reduced budget for anti-smoking programs, sources said Tuesday, following public criticism that the country is neglecting its responsibility despite a rise in revenue brought on by higher cigarette prices.
The assembly's budgeting subcommittee on Monday set next year's anti-smoking assistance budget at 146.7 billion won ($131 million), up 13.5 billion won from the prior proposal so as to meet this year's level. The budget needs to pass the health and welfare committee and the plenary session to become final.
Seoul raised the price for a pack of cigarette by 2,000 won starting in January 2015, saying the higher price will encourage smokers to quit their habit. A recent survey showed that the smoking rate among adult men did go down to 39.4 percent in 2015, the first time it fell below 40 percent mark since record keeping began in 1998. But it rose back up to 40.7 percent last year, suggesting that the price hike was not producing the intended effect.
The cigarette price hike, meanwhile, has increased the total public fees levied on every pack sold. The revenue from the fees, collected as the health improvement fund, rose from 1.62 trillion won in 2014 to 2.47 trillion won in 2015, and to 2.96 trillion won in 2016. Officials expect it to exceed 3 trillion won this year.
The fund, in principle, must be used to enhance the health of smokers and related groups who pay the fees, but the government has been using it for other purposes, raising public anger.
The latest statistics showed that only 5 percent of the fund was spent so far on anti-smoking programs. (Yonhap)