Constitutional Court upholds smoking ban at all restaurants

21 July 2016

The Constitutional Court for the fourth time ruled that a smoking ban at all restaurants is constitutional, court and health officials said Thursday, rejecting arguments that it violates individuals’ rights to property and the pursuit of happiness.

Officials said the nine judges unanimously agreed that the smoking ban at restaurants, in place since Jan. 1, 2015, does not violate the Constitution.

The complainant, a restaurant owner whose identity was withheld except for his last name Im, had filed a petition with the Constitutional Court in August, claiming that the prohibition encroached on his property rights as the government did not duly compensate him for business losses from the ban. He had also argued that the government measure violates his right to pursue happiness by constraining his choices in operating his own restaurant.

The court said the smoking ban does not violate the cited rights since it does not require the owner to change or remove equipment and facilities of the restaurant. The ban also serves the measure’s intended purpose of promoting public health by protecting clients at the restaurant from secondhand smoke, it said.

Three other similar cases were previously reviewed by the Constitutional Court, and all of them were rejected. Operators of PC rooms had filed a petition against the smoking ban in 2003 and in 2011, and smoking customers of “PC rooms” had separately submitted a petition in 2011 but also lost.

The country’s public health law prohibits smoking at restaurants and other facilities of certain sizes. Clauses were later added to apply the ban at all restaurants.

The government raised cigarette prices by 80 percent in January 2015 in what it said was a bid to bring down the number of smokers.

Statistics released on Wednesday said sales of cigarettes in the country rose 14 percent in the first half of the year. (Yonhap)