Go ahead and light up, it’s a ‘smoking cafe’
But look inside, and beside the stylishly-dressed young women sipping drinks is a giant display case filled with Dunhill cigarettes.
“Cigarettes” is the second “smoking cafe” opened by the British American Tobacco Korea, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. The first was established in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, in 2002.
Korea was once a smoker’s paradise, and still is compared to smoke-free zones in many western countries. But for the last few years, anti-tobacco activists have demanded greater restrictions on smoking in public. The mood was particularly evident in January, when people make New Year’s resolutions. With many people aiming to quit smoking at this time of the year, supermarkets have been stocking up on various gums and patches to help people kick the habit.
Meanwhile, various pro-smoking groups have been creating ways to enjoy their cancer sticks while reducing the risk of harming others. Smoking cafes are just one of the alternatives. Smokers are adding enjoyment to their addiction by using cigarette papers with cute designs, and buying high-end cigarettes and accessories online.
For tobacco companies, setting up smoking cafes in trendy areas of town has helped to enhance their brand images. KT&G, Korea’s largest tobacco producer, has set up three smoking cafes, in COEX, Sinchon and Daejon.
Smoking cafes are similar to cigar bars in that they provide a haven for smokers who want to puff indoors. But they operate similarly to the Internet cafes run by mobile phone companies, mainly because they target a younger demographic. The cafes offer cheap drinks and free Internet access, while ventilators clear the air.
Smoking bans in public spaces are hardly new. A few countries such as Ireland, Norway and New Zealand have even banned smoking entirely in indoor public places.
In Korea, the ruling Uri Party has proposed raising the cigarette prices by 500 won (60 cents) a pack in a bid to reduce smoking while boosting tax revenues.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has proposed stricter regulations on indoor smoking and wants it banned entirely in most commercial and public buildings nationwide. Officials are considering making all government office buildings into smoke-free zones while banning smoking in national parks, on mountain trails and in many other outdoor public places.
Although PC rooms and smaller restaurants still allow smoking, large franchises like Starbucks ban smokers. More smokers are being forced outside when they want to light up.
In a sense, the tobacco companies that opened smoking cafes are establishing a model of built-in ventilation systems similar to equipment for “smoking points” in airport lounges and coffee tables that extract smoke.
For businesses aiming at trendy consumers, style is a key part to their products.
“Cigarettes,” which offers free drinks to Dunhill smokers, is designed more like a mini museum displaying cigars, pipes and a variety of accessories. The cafes sell ten kinds of Dunhill cigarettes at regular retail prices.
“Visitors are mostly men in their early 30s,” says Gwon Eun-jeong, a manager at Cigarettes. “They like the idea of smoking in an open space with ventilators. It’s a different experience from being shut in a smoking section in bars and restaurants.”
by Park Soo-mee