Kick the habit, and the used shabby overcoatYoung reporters in this country follow in the footsteps of their seonbae ― those older reporters with more experience in the job. This is a really tight community. While everyone who is not from the same paper is considered the “enemy,” there is also a prevailing sense of camaraderie despite being in the scoop business.
Scoops are not shared, but on break time, cigarettes are. The stereotypical reporter often depicted on television is a chain smoker with a worn-out overcoat. While this is now as passe as the old saying that reporters here never pay for lunch, I have to admit that I am a smoker. As anyone involved in this illicit activity ― by modern etiquette standards that is ― I scramble for places to find freedom for my toxin-inhaling privileges, but I have also struggled to try and find a long-term solution for the sake of my health. To say I need help is an understatement. And so do lots of other addicted fellows. Because aside from Coke (the drink kind), I can hardly find anything more addictive than this.
Nevertheless, in this country where the government is making money by selling these “cloud candies” as they are called by the older generation, that help seems to be far away. Here, Korea Tobacco and Ginseng (KT&G), a government controlled company that boasts a market share approaching 80 percent, stands at the forefront of cigarette sales. On the outside, there are public gestures taken to address the issue of smoking.
Soldiers here were once given a certain amount of free cigarettes per month. Now there are programs available in the military in which special leave is granted to soldiers who successfully quit smoking. In boot camp, acupuncture is used to help young recruits get over the craving. KT&G airs TV commercials, featuring famous actors, that are designed to look as different from a cigarette commercial as possible.
The government has pledged that it will reduce the smoking rate among male adults to 30 percent by the year 2010. But an ambitious plan to raise the price of cigarettes in July of last year was scrapped in the face of strong opposition. Concern over inflation and criticism that the government was taking away the poor man’s only pleasure stopped the measure, which would have raised the price of cigarettes by 50 percent within one year. Raising prices might initially help curb the smoking population, but it does not address the roots of the problem.
The customary warning labels attached to the cigarette packs do not help. It’s often little things that can help. Take Thailand, for example. A fellow company employee, knowing my habits, recently bought me a pack of cigarettes from there. Although I had heard about it before, what I saw with my own eyes brought my rush to take an exploratory drag to a screeching halt.
Clearly visible on the front of the packet was a photograph of a cancerous lung. I had a hard time looking at it. And I still haven’t touched a cigarette. I don’t know how long this abstinence will last but the message from the pack was clear. Price hikes can’t match the craving, but effective education is without doubt the best method to quit smoking because at the end of the day only what your head tells you will eventually make you stop.
by Brian Lee