The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: News Flash

James Turnbull's picture
( Source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3 )

A quick newspaper report that caught my eye while preparing the next post in this series.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” smoking rates for men and women, an essentially useless concept given the diversity within each gender, and also widely inaccurate for women because of chronic underreporting by them. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and for what it’s worth it was interesting to see that Korean men retained the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates in the world. It also takes a step in the right direction by pointing out that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males too, which will hopefully result in more attention being given to that group:

People Would Consider Quitting if Cigarettes Cost 8500 won a Packet

At 42.6%, Korea has the highest adult male smoking rate in the OECD

Although the general social trend is for people to stop smoking, Korea retains its position as the country with the highest adult male smoking rate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to a survey of 3000 men and women over the age of 19 conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare last month, 42.6% of Korean men smoked in the first half of this year, a decrease of 0.5% from the second half of last year, and a break in continuous increases for the past 2 years from August 2008, when it was 40.4%. However, a large gap between this and the average OECD rate of 28.4% (2007) is apparent.

Of particular interest, the survey also revealed that compared to men, women are starting to smoke at earlier ages. Of those smokers under 29 surveyed, the average age both sexes started was 18.1, but the average age of women was 16.5 and that for men was 18.3, showing women started roughly 2 years earlier.*

However, of non-smokers surveyed, 21.4% replied that they did once smoke, but 62% of those were successful in quitting on their first time, showing that it is becoming easier and the social norm to do so. Indeed, 59.4% of smokers replied that they intended to quit.

Accordingly, when asked what the most effective method of quitting would be, the most popular choice [James - among current smokers?] was “increasing the numbers of no-smoking zones” at 22.8%, followed by raising the price of cigarettes (18.7%), increasing penalties for smokers (18%), and launching public campaigns (16.3%). In particular, when asked “How much would the price of cigarettes have to be raised to be effective in making you quit?”, the average answer was 8510.8 won a packet, or 3-4 times higher than current prices.

( “Danger to Children” by Kalandrakas )


*Note the text actually says “이상”, or over 2 years, but I think that’s clearly a typo. My wife (a native speaker) disagrees however, and says – annoyingly for learners – it’s quite normal in Korean to use 이상 in this fashion.

Next week, after Part 4 is completed, I’ll translate this much longer Korean article that looks at female smoking more specifically.

(Links to other posts in the series as they appear: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)


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