Cold Turkeys: Kicking the Cigarette Habit at 50 Bucks per Pack

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Cold Turkeys: Kicking the Cigarette Habit at 50 Bucks per Pack

Ms. Kim, a 33-year-old computer graphic designer, dragged on a cigarette as a swirl of blue-gray smoke surrounded her head. "No, I'm not smoking," she said. "This is my last attempt at stopping." In fact, she was smoking a product called Geumyeoncho, or "Non-smoking herb."

Although Ms. Kim, who refused to give her full name, is happily married and expecting a child in November, she also has a problem - she is a smoker. She has tried many times to quit, but always failed. "I know smoking can only lead to disaster, but somehow, I can't stop whenever I get stressed out."

The government's recent plan to raise the price of cigarettes is making her both miserable and hopeful that she could be forced to quit. For years quitting smoking has been one of her biggest New Year's resolutions, but still she smokes, even though she is well-aware of smoking's dangers. She has tried nearly everything - quitting cold turkey, gradually reduced the number of cigarettes, even acupuncture - but nothing worked.

Geumyeoncho looks exactly the same as cigarettes. But instead of using tobacco, it is made from a special herb from the bark of the hardy rubber tree, or duchung in Korean. The bark of the hardy rubber tree has long been one of the most important herbs in Eastern medicine, used for strengthening bones, treating liver, kidney and spleen problems, for excessive perspiration, rheumatism, and high blood pressure. "We have had our eyes fixed on this special herb for years," said Park No-seong, a manager of 3G Care Corp., the company that produces Geumyeoncho.

Mr. Park said that the main reason that people fail to quit smoking is because they fight the addiction too aggressively instead of doing it naturally. So his company made this cigarette substitute. Mr. Park said, "Smoke these whenever you have urge to light one up for four weeks. If you smoke Geumyeoncho, you will gradually and naturally lose your desire to smoke."

Geumyeoncho was first patented and introduced in 1997. Advertisements featured Cho Hun-hyun, the master of baduk (the Korean name for Go, the board game that originated in China), who had a reputation for being a heavy smoker. He said he overcame his addiction with Geumyeoncho.

But not everyone is happy with the herbal concoction. Ms. Kim looked like she was in pain as she smoked, and said, "This smells like mugwort." And some have expressed skepticism over the scientific basis of the product. Despite these complaints, Geumyeoncho was recently authorized as a type of medicine by the government.

The biggest turn-off about these cigarette substitutes, however, is addictees have no choice but to buy two packs of 216 cigarettes altogether, for 136,000 won ($100). Ms. Kim said, "I'm going to get rid of the rest of all these fake cigarettes. I'm looking for someone to buy the pack for half-price. Do you know anyone?"

by Chun Su-jin

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