October 19, 2021

North Korea’s halting anti-smoking efforts

Public health services struggle to combat habit identified with centuries-old male social behavior

North Korea is a country of smokers. In the 1990s, it was believed that roughly 90 percent of all North Korean men smoked. However, things began to change in the early 2000s as the North Korean government launched an anti-smoking campaign. Thus, recently, an official from the North Korean public health ministry told the KCNA that a mere 44.3 percent of North Korean men are now smoking. They are almost certainly underreporting here; nonetheless, a decline is apparent.

The Korean people began to smoke in 17th century and most Korean males have continued to smoke until recently, if they aren’t a majority still. In the old days, many Koreans believed that tobacco had medicinal qualities, so they smoked to calm their nerves or improve their digestion. They no longer smoke for such reasons, and in North Korean schools students have been always told that smoking is bad. However, these warnings have been largely ignored, and most North Koreans still believe smoking to be a normal activity for men.