The other day Kim Young-hee (26) smoked in public instead of a cafe. She took out a cigarette impulsively while waiting for the bus home after a few drinks with her friends.
“I was a bit tipsy and felt like a puff. After I lit the cigarette, a random middle-aged man came up to me and started shouting as if I had done something very bad. He said, ‘I will slap your face if you don’t throw your cigarette away right now.’ He called me ‘dirty little woman.’”
She still thinks it was ridiculously unfair for him to reproach her because the man was also holding a cigarette…
See The Korea Times for more stories of similar incidents, and my The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Newsflash, Part 4, Korea’s Hidden Smokers) for more context. As explained in the latter (see the article in the last link for a summary of the series), the stigma against women smoking leads to massive under-reporting by them, resulting in official figures of roughly 2-5% of Korean women smoking, against best estimates of roughly 20% (see here for a handy international comparison). What’s more, the previous government was accused of deliberately downplaying the figures to stress its success in lowering the (admittedly more pressing) high male smoking rate, and while technically I haven’t seen the same accusations leveled at the outgoing Lee Myung-bak Administration, I haven’t found any official acknowledgement of how problematic its figures are either.
Meanwhile, since my last post in the series was published nearly a year ago, probably the biggest developments have been the Seoul City Council’s continuing efforts to implement its 2011 plans to increase the number of public areas being designated smoke-free to 1/5th of the city by 2014 (smoking on sidewalks was already banned in 2010); and also efforts by some companies, both public and private, that have gone so far as to make being a non-smoker a prerequisite for promotion. For more details on both of those, see “Getting Tough: Korean Smokers Passed Over for Job Promotions” by Bobby McGill at Busan Haps, who also notes that (source, right):
The central government is doing what it can while avoiding Korea’s third-rail of politics, the “sin tax”. Few things more quickly turn the public against you here than raising taxes on Korean’s beloved cigarettes and alcohol. And the evidence shows that aside of potentially costing elected officials their jobs, it does little to curb smoking anyway.
The last time the government raised taxes on cigarettes was in 2004 by 354 won (30 cents) when 52 percent of the male population was smoking. The rate dropped a paltry seven points to 45 percent by 2007, but then increased the three subsequent years hitting 48.3 percent in 2010 before leveling off back at the current 45 percent.
I’d agree that the government is avoiding the sin tax, but disagree that that 2004 tax hike constitutes evidence against its effectiveness: a raise of 354 won being moot when just last year, packs were still at “the very smoker-friendly price of 2,700 won each” (US$2.53 as I type this). Moreover, in November “The International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project’s team of some 100 health experts from around 20 countries” said that “it is imperative for South Korea to raise taxes on tobacco products,” and also 50% of respondents in a December 2010 survey by The Ministry of Health and Welfare “said that they would seriously consider quitting if the price was at least 8,000 won per pack.”
What do you think, about any of the above? Especially those among you that smoke yourselves? Personally, when I hear of women getting threatened, even slapped in the face for smoking in 2013, I’m very skeptical about news of improvements. But I realize that that is likely much more a manifestation of general misogyny than being anti-smoking per se, with Nathan McMurray of Korea Law Today, for instance, being much more optimistic about changing attitudes:
Reducing smoking is a process that will require the collective willpower of the entire country, because it is a habit so deeply ingrained in the culture. However, positive strides have been made to reduce the number of male smokers. In fact, since I have been in this country, I have noticed that the perception/acceptance of smoking has morphed into something different than it used to be.
Either way, let me conclude by passing on some further reading I’ve come across in the past year. First, specifically gender and smoking-related, which show that — of course — it’s by no means just Korea where the number of female smokers is soaring (source, right):
— Empowered women smoke more (New Scientist)
— Torches of Freedom: Women and Smoking Propaganda (Sociological Images)
And finally, on some methods for curbing smoking in general:
— Why cigarette packs matter (Bad Science)
— Producing Bodies in Anti-Smoking Campaigns (Sociological Images)
— Smoked out: Can a film of a smoker trigger the act? (The Economist)
Young Korean women — not men — are the only demographic in the OECD that are getting more underweight than obese.
Call me making a mountain out of a molehill, but diet-drink companies being allowed to donate their product to teens, out of supposed concerns for their heath? And plastering their classrooms with ads of heavily photoshopped women in the process? Those may just have something to do with that:
청정원 홍초가 수험생 여러분을 응원합니다 / Chung Jung Won’s HongCho Cheers For Students Taking University Entrance Exams
by Kim Jong-hoon (김종훈), Asia Today, November 4 2012
대상은 자사의 브랜드인 ‘청정원’ 홍초가 수능시험을 앞둔 고3 수험생을 응원하기 위해 오는 7일까지 서울시내 20여개 학교를 찾아 다니며 홍초 2만여개를 무료로 나눠줄 계획이라고 4일 밝혔다.
On Sunday, Daesang’s brand Chung Jung Won [English website here] announced that to support 3rd year high school students about to take their university entrance exams, they would visit 20 high schools in Seoul before the 8th (the day of the exams) and donate 20,000 bottles of HongCho to students (source, right).
청정원측은 오랜 시험준비로 지친 수험생들이 좋은 컨디션으로 시험을 볼 수 있도록 응원하기 위한 마음으로 기획 된 행사라고 설명했다. 수능이 끝난 이후에도 홍초를 내세운 다양한 마케팅 활동으로 그간 고생이 많았던 수험생들을 지원할 계획이다.
Chung Jung Won explained that this is an event for tired students that have been preparing for the exams for such a long time, so that they can be in good condition on the exam day. Also, that even after the exams, the company plans to continue supporting those students that have suffered so much, through various HongCho marketing events.
한편, 홍초는 피로회복 등에 도움이 되는 기능성 원료인 콜라겐과 헛개나무 농축액, 그리고 식이섬유를 풍부하게 함유하고 있는 건강기능성 음용식초다.
HongCho is a healthy vinegar drink that includes collagen, liquids extracted from the Oriental Raisin Tree, and a lot of fiber, and is very helpful for recovering from tiredness. (end.)
For sure, HongCho does sound quite healthy. And, technically, it is not a diet-drink:
Diet drinks: Include calorie-free and low-calorie versions of sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and carbonated water, consistent with definitions reported by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Food and Drug Administration food labeling guidelines. Diet drinks do not include 100% fruit juice or unsweetened teas or coffees.
However, a quick perusal of the Chung Jung Won website demonstrates that it is explicitly being marketed as a “body-changing” drink, with — especially after photoshopping — exceptionally tall and skinny Jun Ji-hyun (전지현) endorsing it most recently (that’s Kim Hee-sun/김희선 from 2010 above). Also, the following website screenshot (from 2011) and commercial show that the body-changing theme is no mere Konglish accident:
There also appears to be a sponsorship deal with the Diet War program:
Meanwhile, girl-group Kara (카라) are promoting the drink in Japan, with much the same theme. Which is ironic, considering that these are the same women who admitted that they can’t even drink water on the (frequent) days that they’re required to wear revealing clothing:
What do you think? Have any Korea-based readers had similar promotions at their own schools? How about overseas? Are concerns and issues different there? I know that in the US for instance, it is more sodas that are the considered a problem, and that if students drank HongCho instead that would probably be considered a blessing. From TIME back in March (my emphasis):
If some public-health advocates have their way, sodas could become the cigarettes of food. Doctors already dislike the sugary drinks for their teeth-dissolving properties and for the role they may play in childhood obesity. There’s a constant struggle to get soda vending machines out of public schools, with administrators often forced to choose between losing sponsorship money from big soda companies and dealing with overcaffeinated, less healthy kids. Given the sheer size of the American soda industry — 9.4 billion cases of soft drinks were sold in the U.S. in 2009 — it’s not a war that will end anytime soon. Especially if a certain C word starts getting thrown around.
Update: From the picture, I got the impression that is was only girls’ schools that were targeted, but the advertorial (I can’t bring myself to call it a news report) only mentions 20 schools, and is repeated verbatim across newspapers. If readers find any more information though, please pass it on here!
Update 2: It’s not really related to the original post, but if you read that TIME magazine article above, you may also be interested in the recent findings that one of the main reasons for US children’s obesity is that they’re eating away from home so often, and (of course) that they’re mostly eating junk food when they do.
- Korean Sociological Image #66 – Inventing Labels for Women’s Bodies
- Gender Studies 101: How the media perpetuates negative body images
- How Korean Girls Learn to be Insecure About Their Bodies
Tonight at 7pm I’ll be on Busan e-FM’s Let’s Talk Busan again, this time talking about Korean beauty standards and cosmetic surgery. You can listen on the radio at 90.5, or online here (please note that you’ll have to download Windows Media Player 10 first), and I’ll add a link to the archived version once it becomes available.
Sorry to those of you who tuned in 2 weeks ago, only to hear me speak for just a couple of minutes in total: 7 guests was far too many. But I’m happy to report that there’ll just be 3 of us this time!