The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 2

A teaser for the next posts in the series (click to enlarge):

With apologies for the poor quality of the scans, those are from an activity in the ESL activity book Decisionmaker: 14 Business Situations for Analysis and Discussion (1997) by David Evans, which I happened to be doing with my advanced students when a reader sent me the journal articles that inspired this series. It seemed a pity not to mention the interesting coincidence!

Yet another coincidence is that before I moved from Jinju (진주) to Busan in late-2003, I also happened to have a 23-year old female Korean friend who was similarly attracted by the possibility of working for British American Tobacco, which was then setting up a manufacturing plant in Sacheon (사천) just a few kilometers away (it’s still there). We didn’t quite have a conversation like Kim Jin-hiu did with her family, although I did try to discourage her from applying; as I would today too, although I’d have a much better appreciation of her motivations. In the end though, she ignored me and managed to get an interview, but surprisingly wasn’t offered a job.

Meanwhile, as David Evans explains, the marketing plan in the “secret memo” does sound outrageous, but in fact:

…some cigarette companies have undoubtedly targeted children in their marketing strategies. A leaked memo from a Canadian tobacco company listed teenagers as a target group,  and cigarette adverts are regularly shown on children’s TV in Japan (James: is this still true?). In 1991, a study showed that American children as young as six could identify Joe Camel (a cartoon character advertising Camel cigarettes) as easily as Mickey Mouse!

And in Part 4, which I’ll link to below once it’s up next week, I’ll outline how internal industry documents reveal that cigarette companies in Korea (including British American Tobacco) have indeed been using many of the same strategies mentioned above, albeit technically not explicitly to girls (or boys for that matter). Watch this space.

(Links to other posts in the series as they appear: Part 1, Part 3, Newsflash, Part 4, Korea’s Hidden Smokers; Living as a female smoker in Korea)

2 thoughts on “The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 2

  1. Girls and young women are a huge target group, one that could well compensate for a drop in male adult smokers. Parliament and Mallboro seem to be the two most popular brands amongst them. In the case of the latter I suspect it’s because they’re about the strongest brand one can get in Korea, and when girls (or boys) get the opportunity to sneak a naughty cigarette, they want a stronger hit. They’re also more tar for your won, and a single cigarette may be enough to satisfy two or three at once, proving more economical.

    With schools on average becoming less lax about discipline tobacco companies coudl really cash in on young people, especially girls, who are less afraid of consequences of being caught smoking. If I were a tobacco marketer the first place I’d invest would be in bribing movie and TV-drama producers to show actors and especially actresses smoking their brand on films and programmes most popular with teenage girls. I’d also try selling cigarettes with little accessories that are something an adult male could use but a teenage girl wourld like far better, like say a cute little container with a few sweets in it.


    1. Thanks for your comment, but in hindsight I should really have closed comments for this post because I’ll be discussing all the things you and the textbook raise in much more detail in Parts 3 and 4 I’m afraid. So, apologies for not doing that (I will now), and I will make sure to reply properly in one of those once they’re up next week!


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