Just as in many parts of the world, families in North Korea also contemplate New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking. This year some have started alluding to the country’s leader as a “chain smoker” in support of their case. Many North Koreans blame Kim Jong Un, who is frequently shown smoking cigarettes on state TV and in newspaper images, for setting a bad example for the population.
A source in South Hwanghae Province told Daily NK on January 4, “Arguments between family members over smoking tends to intensify around the New Year. Someone typically points to Kim Jong Un, saying that the ‘chain smoker’ problem starts at the top and infects everyone else below. People began making these kinds of criticisms after images of the Marshal smoking began showing up frequently in the media.”
“There’s propaganda encouraging people not to smoke, but then there are all these officials openly and publicly smoking,” she continued.
Highlighting the fact that the problem stems more from cost than health concerns, the source pointed to the frustration of “women who complain about money being wasted on cigarettes” by their husbands or male family members.
“How can you not be angry when you could buy 1 kg of rice for the same price as even the cheapest pack of cigarettes?”she pointed out. “Kohyang” brand cigarettes typically cost 5,000 KPW per pack, while a pack of “Koyangi” costs 3,500 won, and a pack of “Pyongyang” costs 4,900 KPW. For comparison, according to Daily NK’s latest market price list, 1 kg of rice costs around 5,000 KPW, varying by region.
The rise in status of females in the country can particularly be seen through this issue. “Women are expressing more anger at their husbands for buying cigarettes now than a year ago, due to the difficult economic conditions of the past year. Sometimes they scold their husbands about the ramifications of their chain smoking,” the source said.
Kim Jong Un is shown smoking cigarettes next to other military officials
while celebrating the recent launch of the ‘Hwasong-15’ ICBM. Image: Rodong Sinmun
Criticisms of the young leader are also coming from members of the older generation, who see a departure from the ways of the old system.
“Seniors are especially bothered by how Kim Jong Un smokes cigarettes even while standing right next to older cadres in documentaries on TV,” a source in North Hwanghae Province said, explaining that such behavior is seen as uncultured.
Images depicting Kim smoking are continuing to appear with greater frequency. He has even been connected to a cheap brand of cigarettes (priced at 750 KPW per pack) named “Konsol” also known as the “people’s cigarettes,” with rumors that he enjoys the brand. However, the reactions have been even more cynical, with people saying, “he must really love cigarettes if he smokes even those poor quality ones,” the North Hwanghae Province-based source said.
“I’ve heard some other pretty serious put-downs, such as, ‘bad cigarettes for a bad man’,” she added.
The North Korean authorities began to import more Chinese-made cigarettes at the beginning of the decade, while also making efforts to build up the domestic cigarette industry by establishing factories across the country. This has caused the number of cigarette brands available in the markets to skyrocket, with around 60 different brands for sale today.