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(LEAD) N. Korea apparently struggling to lower smoking rate
SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) -- At least a decade has passed since North Korea's official media began urging its people to quit smoking ahead of 2012, the year it aims to become a "great, prosperous and powerful nation," but recent reports suggest the smoking rate among North Koreans remains high.

   In a report marking World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31, Pyongyang's official Korean Central Television said Tuesday the government is "taking practical measures to promote the health benefits of giving up smoking." It did not mention the government's stated aim of lowering the smoking rate to 30 percent by 2010, indicating that goal may not have been met.

   In 2006, the smoking rate among North Korean men was 56 percent, trailing behind only China and Laos among Asian nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

   By 2008, 54.7 percent of the population smoked, according to North Korean media reports. Given that smoking among women is nearly taboo in North Korea, the figure suggests that more than half of the country's adult males were smokers.

   The North Korean regime, however, has been persistently working toward its goal, enacting a law in 2005 to restrict smoking and banning advertisements in public places that relate to smoking.

   These actions came after Korean Central Television made a broadcast in June 2000 that called on the North Korean people to give up smoking and use their healthy bodies to contribute to building a "great, prosperous and powerful nation." The year 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of North Korea's late founder, Kim Il-sung.

   Kim's son, North Korea's current leader Kim Jong-il, reportedly took up drinking and smoking again after partially recovering from an apparent stroke in 2008.

   Meanwhile, South Korea's smoking rate among adult males was found to be 39.6 percent at the end of last year, despite health authorities' efforts to push it down to 30 percent by the same year.

  
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (L) smokes a cigarette while he inspects a cigarette factory in North Hamgyong Province. The North's Korean Central News Agency released the photo on Feb. 25, 2009, without stating when it was taken. (KCNA-Yonhap)


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