The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Newsflash

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Article source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3.

A quick newspaper report on Korean smoking rates that caught my eye.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” rates for men and women, as these are essentially useless pieces of information given the huge diversity within each gender in Korea, and doubly so for women because of chronic underreporting. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and at least it takes a step in the right direction by mentioning that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males, which will hopefully result in some much-needed attention being given to this burgeoning 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.

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; Korea’s Hidden Smokers; Living as a female smoker in Korea)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

10 thoughts on “The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Newsflash

  1. I don’t think that’s a reflection of more girls starting earlier than boys, but rather of a dramatic increase in males smoking when they get to the post-secondary level or military service that doesn’t happen with females. A ‘good boy’ can start smoking after he graduates high school; a ‘good girl’ still can’t.


    1. Sorry, but I’m a little confused by the wording of your comment: what exactly don’t you think is “a reflection of more girls starting earlier than boys”? The big difference in smoking rates?


  2. I think that (slightly) more boys are smoking by age 16 than girls, but then after 18 or 19 it really picks up for guys but not so much for girls.


    1. I’d agree, and whether you speaking about absolute numbers or percentage rates for each gender too!

      Related, I’ve always known that many Korean men take up smoking during their military service, but have never really been convinced by the reason the first guys told me why they did there, which was just that doing guard duty was so damn boring. That may well be, but this other reason I’ve just read here sounds much more plausible:

      Army recruit Park Jae Song, 21, said the smoking culture is so strong in the army that it is ‘very difficult to refuse a smoke offer from seniors or superiors’.

      Given the pressure, many simply cave in and start smoking.


  3. Hello! If you don’t mind, I might use some of the same articles you used in your blogposts for a presentation (like the ones from Science direct) I have in mind for my Korean class. :) I’m glad my university lets me access the same articles for free. My topic is smoking in Korea/US and I just so happen to run across your blog in the process of researching.


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