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The Cigarette Culture in North and South Korea

By Anonymous

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North Korean Cigarette Brands

In today’s issue of Eyes of Pyongyang, we will examine the different cigarette and smoking culture between the North and the South!

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of five in the world’s population identifies as a tobacco smoker. In South Korea alone, there are approximately ten million smokers, marking cigarette as one of the country’s niche products. In the past, it was not uncommon to see university hallways filled with cigarette smokes after lectures. However, tobacco consumption and usage have since decreased with more strict regulations enforced by the government.

Then, does such culture exist in North Korea? Tobacco consumption also occupies an important space in the North Korean market. This article will attempt to explain the cultural differences between North and South Korea’s tobacco consumption and usage.

The following is an interview conducted with North Korea defector Cheol Gu (alias):

1. What are the similar regulations regarding tobacco consumptions between North and South Korea?

Similar to South Korea where the sale of cigarettes are limited to those 19 and over, there is an age restriction in North Korea as well. Thus, the understanding that cigarettes are detrimental to the youth is commonly shared.


2. Is there a movement to reduce tobacco consumption in North Korea as well?

In South Korea, there is an understanding that tobacco consumptions are detrimental to one’s health; thus, there exists anti-smoking policies regulated by the government, and campaigns initiated by non-governmental organizations. In North Korea, where there is an understanding about the negative health consequences of cigarette consumptions, there are no direct policies to enforce reductions in tobacco consumptions. Further, the fact that there are no civil organizations, contribute to the lack of anti-smoking campaigns.

3. Are cigarette consumptions considered as an act of rebellion amongst the youth?

In North Korea, individuals below the age of 19 cannot legally purchase alcohol and cigarettes. However, there is an atmosphere of pressure where individuals, regardless of their age, must smoke as a member of their society. Personally, I learned how to smoke cigarettes from my father at the age of 13. However, there are different implications for cigarette and alcohol consumption in North Korea, than those of the South – deviation or rebellion is simply not allowed in the North Korean society.


4. What other unique aspects are there?

It is easier for the youth to purchase cigarettes and alcohol in North Korea, than the South. Further, an individual’s cigarette bran preference depends upon one’s social status and economic capacity. Cigarette brands, Blue Skies and Heaven and Earth, are popular amongst the lower class; Baekdu-san, Ildang-baek, and Geumgang-san are used commonly by soldiers, similar to the THISPLUS brand in South Korea. Pungsan is considered a luxury brand of cigarettes. They are preferred by individuals with economic capacity; there are also individuals who import Marlboro cigarettes for consumption.

While tobacco is considered as a niche product both in North and South Korea, the culture of consumption varies for both countries. This is especially the case for the class divisions that exist in parallel to cigarette consumption. It is interesting to predict the types of cigarette brands that may arise in the future, upon unification.