By Park Chung-a
The Ministry of Health and Welfare is blamed for exaggerating its achievement regarding anti-smoking campaign.
The ministry has been claiming that 2.43 million men quit smoking from 2003 to 2006. However, tobacco-related industry and institutes question such claim.
According to the ministry, smoking rate of men aged over 20 stood at 56.7 percent in 2003 but decreased by 13.5 percentage point to 44.1 percent last December.
The ministry said that such decrease is thanks to the government's various anti-smoking policies, including a raise of cigarette price by 500 won, expansion of non-smoking areas and anti-smoking education and advertisements and establishment of clinics that teach how to quit smoking.
Considering that the number of Korean men is 17.89 million as of 2006, this means that more than 2.43 men have quit smoking over the past years as a result of the ministry's anti-smoking policies.
However, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO), Korean men's smoking rate has decreased by 4.1 percent between 2003 and 2006, which is only one third of the number claimed by the ministry. It says that the smoking rate which stood at 56.3 percent in 2003 only decreased to 52. 2 percent in 2006.
Also, while the ministry has been demanding that women's smoking rate sharply decreased from 3.5 percent to 2.3 percent over the past three years, NSO says that it increased on the contrary, from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent.
Experts and the National Assembly's Health and Welfare Committee say NSO's claim is more credible as its research is based on larger sample. While NSO conducted a survey of 70,000 people aged over 15 from 33,000 families, the ministry's statistics is based on phone interview with 1,552 adults across the nation.
Numbers regarding tobacco sales also support NSO's claim. According to Korea Anti-Smoking Institute, the number of cigarette packs that were sent from tobacco production companies to retailers which is directly related to tobacco consumption, has shown not much difference over the past four years. The number stood at 4.47 billion in 2002, 4.46 billion in 2003, 5.39 billion in 2004 and 3.84 billion in 2005.
``The fact that there is not much change in the number of cigarette sales over the past four means that the actual smoking rate has not much changed either,'' said Choi Chang-mok, a researcher at the institute.
``Also, the government is too obsessed in decreasing smoking rate of men. It's excessively political to only emphasize decrease in men's smoking rate since the recent trend is that smoking rate amid women and teenager is on a significant increase,'' Choi said.