+ A

Law targets smokers in their own apartments

Dec 13,2017
Starting next year, people living in apartments can be reported for smoking and urged to refrain from lighting up by building administrators and security guards.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced on Monday that under a revision to the Housing Act, tenants of an apartment building can report the smell of smoke to the building’s administration office, which can direct an employee or security guard to check another resident’s apartment for signs of smoking and urge the resident to stop. The revised law takes effect Feb. 10.

The ministry said it revised the Housing Act to help reduce smoking that bothers other tenants in a building.

Many apartment buildings forbid smoking in stairwells, corridors and underground parking garages. But nonsmoking residents still complain about smoke from neighbors’ windows, balconies or bathroom ventilation systems.

In one dispute, a person asked the neighbor living beneath her to stop smoking in the enclosed balcony, which Koreans commonly use for laundry, because her kids kept coughing. The neighbor replied, “I’m smoking in my own house. It’s none of your business.”

One student bothered by second-hand smoke in his apartment filed an online petition to the Blue House on Oct. 9 complaining, “Even if we put up notes asking smokers to stop, they just ignore it.

“According to a public poll by Real Meter,” the student continued, “about 60 percent of the public want some sort of ban on smoking inside the home. I’m not a smoker and I feel so wronged that I have to suffer from inhaling nicotine and carbon monoxide every day.”

There have been numerous complaints about second-hand smoke in apartments to the Integrated Government Call Center (#110). An investigation by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission showed that the number of second-hand smoke complaints from apartment dwellers rose from 158 in 2011 to 348 in 2015. The commission released an online report in October 2016 on its plans to work with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Health and Welfare to revise the Housing Act.

But some building administrators and security guards doubt the effectiveness of the law since the decision to stop smoking when requested is up to the smoker.

“It is absolute nonsense to make me enter the privacy of someone’s home to investigate whether he or she was smoking,” said Park Sang-yeol, a security guard at an apartment in Seoul. “I’m already busy trying to please our residents and not get on their nerves. This law won’t change anything.”

Even in apartments with designated no-smoking zones, people continue to smoke in those areas, even though the ministry implemented a 50,000 won ($46) fine on people caught last month.

The ministry said it will not consider imposing penalties or force tenants to refrain from smoking if they are reported.

“I understand the concerns about the effectiveness of the revised law,” said the head of the Division of Health Policy under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. “I hope people understand that the new law is only meant to give authority to the third-party [the building administrators and security guards] to help resolve conflicts between residents.”

BY JUNG JONG-HOON, PECK SOO-JIN AND LAURA SONG [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]