South Korean anti-smoking activists ask Constitutional Court to ban all tobacco sales

David Martosko Executive Editor
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A group of seven anti-smoking activists asked South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday to completely ban the sale of tobacco in that country, claiming that a constitutional “right to health” should render invalid any law permitting tobacco-related commerce.

South Korea’s Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry banned smoking in 16 kinds of public places in March 2011 in a bid to lower the male smoking rate from 47 percent to 20 percent. Those places included the nation’s largest buildings, hotels, schools, sports arenas, large restaurants, comic book stores, government buildings, train stations and airports.

Previously, most public places in South Korea had separate smoking sections, but the result of the new law has made lighting up in public practically impossible in most urban centers. Violators of the anti-smoking law can be fined $90 for a first offense.

The new constitutional argument comes as health-related lawsuits and new tobacco taxes have become common in the Asian nation. But it marks the first attempt to completely ban the manufacture and sale of tobacco products there.

The Korean Constitutional Court, like the U.S. Supreme Court, is the court of last resort for legal and constitutional disputes. Its decisions are binding on all levels of government, and cannot be appealed.

The campaigners who petitioned the high court on Wednesday argued that the government has a duty to protect its citizens from unhealthy products and behaviors

“The right to health, guaranteed by the Constitution, means the government not only has the duty not to harm people’s health but also is responsible for making and implementing policy for people’s health,” the group said in the petition, according to a partial translation published by the Korea Times.

“The law on business allows the sale of tobacco through the manufacture or importation of cigarettes although the state itself recognizes smoking is harmful to health,” the group said, “so the law is unconstitutional.”

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter