The DPRK has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, among males. After several statements and campaigns against smoking, however, now it seems a strict rule against smoking in public places and buildings is in effect, at least in Pyongyang.
The first big anti-smoking campaign came in 2004, when Kim Jong Il famously said smokers were one of "three main fools of the 21st century", along with those who don't understand computers and music. This, in a country where the majority of men smoke, but where women almost never do. Women react with shock if you joke that maybe they secretly smoke in bathrooms.
Recent Choson Exchange workshop attendees, who now have to travel further during break times to find an acceptable spot to smoke, were optimistic that it would be relaxed before long. Or hopeful, at least. After all, one of main emotional trials for CE students when they come to Singapore (other than the oppressive heat and humidity) are the rules on and costs of smoking. It is always amusing to see the look of disbelief when you tell a DPRK Korean that a pack costs $13 in Singapore.
Smoking has also been big business in the DPRK, as it is all too many places. There are several domestic companies, some of whom export to the Middle East and elsewhere, sometimes in partnership with foreign companies. For example, since 2000, China's Jilin Tobacco has had a couple joint ventures, with stakes in the Taedong River Tobacco Co. and the Rason Shinhung Tobacco Co., in the Rason SEZ.
British American Tobacco also had a joint venture in the early 2000s, but divested itself of that project in 2007, after suffering much PR and political pressure. BAT has maintained some business ties to the country. It still supplies its former Pyongyang joint venture, from which it divested in 2007. It continued to supply its former partner with materials for a period after, however.
It remains to be seen if this ban will have an effect: it is, after all, a very popular vice and one that the leader clearly enjoys. However, those earlier anti-smoking campaigns have raised awareness: everyone knows its bad for you.
Those of you who follow Choson Exchange will not be surprised to hear that we wish everyone would switch their addiction to coffee.