About the Author
View more articles by Michelle Lee
Michelle Lee is the pseudonym for a North Korean defector now living in South Korea.
Before the Arduous March of 1996-99, North Koreans smoked only locally produced cigarettes, but since the late 1990s foreign cigarettes have been smoked in North Korea. Recently, there have been reports that Kim Jong Un ordered his officials not to smoke foreign-produced tobacco and to show one’s patriotic loyalty by using locally produced tobacco only. North Korean officials usually take such instructions seriously, at least for the first couple of months after the instructions are issued. However, the smuggling of foreign cigarettes across the Chinese border has been big business in North Korea, and it is not going to die off overnight.
There are 14 factories producing cigarettes in North Korea. The most prestigious brand of officially produced cigarettes is known as the “7.27” brand. Every North Korean knows what this stands for: July 27, 1953, the date of the signing of the armistice that halted the Korean War, officially known as Victory Day in the North. This is a day of celebration, because North Koreans believe that the Americans invaded their country, but they repelled this invasion and emerged triumphant from the Korean War.