Conflicting reports are emerging from North Korea regarding the enforcement and application of new smoking restrictions as part of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign launched earlier this year.
North Korean state media announced in May that a non-smoking campaign was under way, with headlines such as “No-smoking Campaign Brisk in DPRK” featuring on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Choson Exchange, a Singaporean based NGO that operates workshops on business development and economics with North Koreans, has seen signs that some restrictions are becoming noticeable.
“The DPRK has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, among males…however, now it seems a strict rule against smoking in public places and buildings is in effect, at least in Pyongyang,” a Chosen Exchange blog post, published on Thursday, reads.
Choson Exchange cites workshop attendees having to travel further during their breaks to find acceptable smoking locations as an indication of such restrictions.
Restrictions on smoking in certain locations is not a new development and they are currently in place in hotel lobbies and locations of import, such as monuments dedicated to North Korea’s former leaders.
However an in country source, speaking to NK News on the condition of anonymity, also said there is evidence that new restrictions on smoking in public places are having an effect.
“I have recently seen people who leave a restaurant, who had been smoking inside restaurants in the past, so there seems to be a change of rules,” the foreign source who regularly works in North Korea told NK News.
However, new non-smoking signs or the implementation of designated smoking areas common in cities with smoking restrictions, have yet to be seen and the source also said that enforcement is, so far, not uniform.
“Local contacts told me that in many places, you have to be outside of public buildings to smoke, you cannot be inside. But they also said new rules are not enforced everywhere yet,” the source told NK News, adding that some locations still tolerate smoking indoors.
While officially it seems that the North Korean government is trying to get its population to smoke in reduced numbers, there have been similar campaigns in the past that have had little impact on the practice.
There are further indications that the North Korean government is perhaps taking this campaign more seriously with the Associated Press filing a story on the push for reduced rates of smoking from Pyongyang this week.
The story included interviews with North Korean citizens, a practice that occurs with North Korean government facilitation.
Multiple sources within the tourism industry however have yet to see substantial evidence of the current campaign being fully enforced and even provide accounts suggesting little to no change.
“It’s sort of funny because the only fuss I’ve been hearing about this smoking ban has been in the international media. Locals inside the country are aware of the campaign but haven’t paid any real attention to it,” Rowan Beard of Young Pioneer Tours told NK News.
“From what I’ve also seen the smoking bans haven’t really changed a thing. The smoking laws are still very relaxed. You can continue smoking inside restaurants, at bars, at bus stops, entrances to buildings, etc,” he added.
This sentiment was also shared by Jessica Mader, a Koryo Tours guide who is currently in the country, however with some small differences on enforcement for North Koreans.
“I have heard about new smoking restrictions in offices, meaning that new regulations have been put in force to stop smoking inside office buildings. It’s possible to smoke outside though,” Mader said.
“From what I was told and what I have seen, other areas are not affected for now, but it could be that more restrictions are to follow.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is also commonly seen smoking in state media and after the launch of the antismoking campaign in May, including during public appearances in June and July.
Defector run news organization the Daily NK recently published an article citing disquiet among some citizens regarding the contradictions between Kim smoking in public and the alleged restrictions on smoking for North Korean citizens.
While North Koreans are extremely unlikely to convey negative messages about Kim to foreigners, a discussion about the contradiction between the anti-smoking campaign and images of Kim smoking on state media has, at least in part, been discussed.
“I was having a discussion with one of my close Korean friends about the Marshall being unable to kick the habit. It wasn’t a big deal for him to find this out. He simply replied with ‘it’s a hard thing to give up’,” Beard said.
While speaking about North Korean’s negative reactions to the ban, the Daily NK article does also note its perceived limitations among the population.
“Multiple attempts at non-smoking movements have been initiated across the generations, but none have been enforced in full. Many expect the latest iteration to meet with the same fate,” the article reads.
While the campaign is somewhat new and mixed messages regarding the application of the restrictions are emerging, it may be a matter of time before the North Korean government’s appetite for full implementation becomes apparent.
“I think in a place like the DPRK a smoking ban in certain places would take a while to come into effect they have been very permissive for so long about things like smoking in restaurants, bars, etc that it would take time for this to change,” Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours told NK News.
“I think this is all a matter of enforcement…I think it is a slow process that involves education as much as legislation.”
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Featured Image: cigarettes by xvaughanx on 2009-07-22 11:26:48