Despite the best efforts of North Korea’s authorities to address the nation’s serious tobacco addiction, Kim Jong Un was pictured last week smoking while inspecting a newly built hospital built in Pyongyang.
Walking through newly built operation rooms, The Pyongyang Times reported that Kim Jong Un “asked questions in detail to see [that] they were thoroughly sterilized and dust-free”. Seemingly underscoring his desire for maximum hygiene, he told reporters that hospitals should be “neat and splendid”.
At World No Tobacco Day 2011, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central Television said the government was “taking practical measures to promote the health benefits of giving up smoking.” Perhaps unaware of the health risks associated with smoking in a hospital, the photo of Kim Jong Un enjoying a cigarette in the hospital will send mixed messages to North Korean smokers.
Kim Jong Un’s smoking habit made international headlines last month when he was pictured enjoying a cigarette after the launch of the Unha-3 rocket on December 12. That wasn’t the first time Kim had been pictured smoking by North Korean media, with footage of him visiting a gymnasium earlier this year sparking controversy for showing him using gym equipment with cigarette in hand.
As is well known by many North Korea watchers, both of Kim’s predecessors (father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung) were also smokers. Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef, was reported to have said that Jong-un began to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor when he was around 15.
Smoking is popular in both Koreas, with 54.8% of North Korean men and 39% of South Korean men recorded as smokers.