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Opinion

Shift in tobacco regulation needed

May 23,2018
Moon Ok-ryun
*Professor emeritus at Seoul National University‘s Graduate School of Public Health

Enforcement of strong anti-smoking policy is necessary to lower the smoking rate. The World Health Organization recommended the member countries to lower the smoking rate to 30 percent or less by 2020 in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in March. The plan promotes a strict anti-smoking policy of “quit smoking or die,” but the effect is doubtful.

According to the 2017 local community health survey published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39.3 percent of adult males in Korea are smokers. It is one of the highest among the OECD members and far higher than the WHO recommendation.

The U.K. is highlighted for its low smoking rate, less than half of Korea’s. Its smoking rate is 15 percent and has been constantly declining.

The rate of decline slowed down between 2010 and 2012, but from 2013, the downward trend accelerated. According to the report “Adult Smoking Habits in Great Britain” by the government in 2016, the increased use of electronic cigarettes between 2013 and 2014 helped people quit.

The United Kingdom had introduced the health concept of tobacco harm reduction of providing alternatives to smokers to ensure only minimum health effects. Public Health England (PHE) applied separate regulations for cigarettes and e-cigarettes depending on the harm and encouraged smokers to quit by converting to less harmful e-cigarettes. Some 2.8 million smokers switched to e-cigarettes, and about 50 percent of them eventually succeeded in quitting smoking.

Some developed countries with strict smoking regulations turned to a third alternative, such as excluding e-cigarette usage in the smoking rate, as they recognized the reduced harm of e-cigarettes. In 2017, the adult male smoking rate fell below 40 percent, but despite the price increase, expansion of non-smoking sections and a warning picture requirement, the smoking rate is slow to decline.

Rather than a dichotomy between “smoking or no-smoking,” we need an alternative to lower the smoking rate incrementally. Smokers should be provided with the opportunity to choose less harmful tobacco products, and a policy that reflects the concept of reduced harm of tobacco should be prepared.
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