Smoking in South Korea

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Smoking in South Korea is similar to other developed countries in the OECD, with a daily smoking rate of 22.90% in 2012 compared to the OECD average of 21.13%. However, male smoking is among the highest at 40.80% while female smoking among the lowest at 5.20%.[1] The South Korean government aims to take down male smoking rate to the OECD average of 29% by 2020 by making the country one of the world's most difficult places to smoke,[2] using a combination of significant price hikes, mandatory warning photos on cigarette packs, advertising bans, financial incentives and medical help for quitting along with a complete smoking ban in public places including all bars, restaurants and cafes.[3]

South Korea enforced strict smoking bans in public places since July 2013, with fines of 100,000 won on any spotted smoker and up to 5 million won on shop owners not following the law. It is illegal to smoke in all bars and restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, government buildings, kindergartens, schools, universities, hospitals, youth facilities, libraries, children's playgrounds, private academies, subway or train stations and their platforms and underground pathways, large buildings, theaters, department stores or shopping malls, large hotels and highway rest areas. The strict bans came into force gradually beginning with a ban on places larger than 150 square meters in 2012, extended to 100 square meters in 2014, with a full-fledged complete nationwide ban in 1 January 2015.[4]


Since 1 January 2015, South Korea has completely banned smoking on all bars, restaurants and cafes regardless of size, including any smoking rooms. Any spotted smoker must pay fines of 100,000 won and up to 5 million won on shop owners not obeying the law.[5]

Since 1 January 2015, tobacco prices have nearly doubled to an average of ₩4,500 KRW, and it is illegal to advertise misleading claims such as "light", "mild", "low tar" or "pure" on cigarette packs.[6][7]

Discussion is under way at the National Assembly to pass a law in the first half of 2015 that will raise the prices every year pegged to inflation, along with mandatory warning photos such as rotten teeth and lungs.[8] The government will pass a law in the first half of 2015 to completely ban any form of advertising of cigarettes in convenience stores and make it illegal for tobacco companies to sponsor cultural or sport events.[9]

Seoul City aims to completely ban smoking on any walking roadsides (except small streets with no sidewalks), which will come into force in April 2015 with fines of 100,000 won on any spotted smoker.[10]


Smoking is illegal and strictly prohibited in the following premises:

  • Office, multi-use or factory buildings larger than 1,000 square meters in floor area (of which offices, conference rooms, auditorium and lobby must be smoke-free).
  • Institutions larger than 1,000 square meters in floor area (of which classrooms, waiting rooms and lounges must be smoke-free).
  • Shopping malls, department stores and underground malls (of which any shop selling goods must be smoke-free).
  • Hotels and resorts (of which the lobby must be smoke-free).
  • Universities (of which lecture rooms, lounges, auditorium, cafeteria and conference hall must be smoke-free).
  • Indoor sports facilities such as basketball and volleyball courts which can seat more than 1,000 people (of which the seats and pathways must be smoke-free).
  • Social welfare facilities (of which the living and working rooms, lounge, cafeteria and conference hall must be smoke-free).
  • Airports, bus terminals and train stations (of which waiting rooms, domestic flights, cabins, inside trains, subway car and its platform and underground stations and underground pathways must be smoke-free).
  • Any vehicle that can seat more than 16 people.
  • Public baths (of which changing rooms and bathing rooms must be smoke-free).
  • Game arcades, comic book renting shops and internet cafes.
  • Bars, restaurants, cafes, fast food restaurants and bakeries, regardless of size.
  • Baseball or football stadiums which can seat more than 1,000 people (of which the seats and pathways must be smoke-free).
  • Kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.
  • Hospitals and health centers.
  • Nurseries.
  • Taxis.[11]


In addition to the nationwide ban laws, Seoul designates the following areas must be smoke-free:[12]

Other regions[edit]

In addition to the nationwide ban laws, several cities designate the following areas must be smoke-free:

Financial and medical help for quitting[edit]

People who have successfully quit smoking will receive 50,000 to 150,000 KRW as a financial incentive from the government. A 12-week medical help program for quitting is provided at a heavily subsidised cost of 5,000KRW upon the first treatment, reduced to 3,000KRW thereafter. Smoking cessation aids such as bupropion, varenicline and nicotin patches are handed out for free at any participating medical center nationwide. Anyone in need of consulting smoking cessation can dial a hotline and consult a doctor or specialist.[32]

Residents of Seoul's Seocho District will receive a 5 million KRW cash prize if they have successfully quit smoking.[33]

Prevalence and effects[edit]

Reports suggest that persistently high rates of smoking in the military contribute to the high incidence of male smoking, and negate the efficacy of anti-smoking measures, as many men start smoking during their mandatory 2-year military service. The Public Health Graduate School of Yonsei University completed a 13-year medical study on 1.2 million patients and found that about 73% of male smokers and 18% of female smokers contracted lung cancer.[citation needed] There is rising awareness of the health effects of tobacco.[34] The economy of South Korea loses more than 10 trillion won a year in terms of health-care expenses and lost man-hours due to smoking-related illness.

South Korean smoking etiquette[edit]

Local smoking etiquette in South Korea is influenced by Confucianism. For instance, smokers generally refrain from, or seek permission before lighting up in the presence of social superiors;[35] a social superior could be a boss, professor, parents, grandparents, or teacher.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ OECD iLibrary
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  6. ^ BBC News
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  8. ^ (Korean) 여권,물가 오른 만큼 담뱃값 올리겠다…흡연 억제 목적 2015-01-04
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  34. ^ "Tobacco in South Korea". euromonitor. Aug 2010. Retrieved 2011. 
  35. ^ Turnbull, James (2010-06-06). "The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 1". koreabridge.