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Seoul City expands non-smoking areas

One fifth of capital to be designated smoke-free zones by 2014

Smokers will find it harder to light up in Seoul, as smoking will be banned in a fifth of the capital’s total area by 2014, city officials said Friday.

Seoul Metropolitan Government will expand non-smoking areas from the current 23 locations ― three squares and 20 parks ― to some 9,000 places covering 21 percent of the city within the next two years.

For commuters like Lim Hae-sun, 25, this is a welcome change. “When I’m waiting for buses at the stops, there is always someone who smokes there, so I end up walking away to avoid the smoke,” she said.

Complaints like Lim’s are commonplace on the streets of Seoul.

“I think it’s right that they are making smokers move out of bus stops and other public areas,” said Su I-re, a 23-year-old student studying tourism in Seoul.

The city government enacted an ordinance to prevent second-hand smoking a year ago and promulgated in March a decree to designate squares and municipal parks as smoke-free zones.

According to the city, the goal is to make 128.4 square kilometers of the city non-smoking, out of the city’s total area of 605 square kilometers.

“I think as long as they designate areas for smokers, the city should try and expand non-smoking areas as much as they can,” said Heo Su-jin, a 23-year-old office worker in Seoul.

The city has currently designated Gwanghwamun, Cheonggye and Seoul Squares, and city parks Seoul Forest, Namsan Park, Yeouido Park and 17 others as non-smoking areas. Currently those caught violating the smoking ban are slapped with a 100,000 won ($89) fine.

Coming this December, the city will add 298 central bus stops, including Seoul Station and Yeouido Station, to the list.

A three-month grace period will be given to ensure the regulation is adequately promoted, after which violators will be fined starting March.

But not all are on board with the idea to create so many non-smoking areas.

“It is already so difficult for smokers to find areas to smoke without getting fined,” said Lee Ji-eum, who said the city is infringing upon her rights.

“My coworkers and I used to smoke outside of our building but now I have to walk up to 15 minutes round-trip just to grab a quick smoke,” said the 23-year-old tour guide.

Next year, the city will designate 1,910 parks as smoke-free zones, 5,715 bus stops by 2013 and 1,305 areas around public schools by 2014.

“We will continue our efforts with the goal to designate all outdoor areas as a non-smoking zone and instead set up separate places for smokers,” said Park Ho-yong, a city official.

By Robert Lee (