[Viewpoint]Who will be Korea’s last smoker?I found out recently that King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty was a heavy smoker while reading a paper called the “Pros and Cons on Smoking of Late Joseon Dynasty Intellectuals,” written by Ahn Dae-hoe, a professor of Korean literature at Myongii University.
Tobacco was introduced to Korea via Japan during the reign of Kings Seonjo and Gwanghaegun in the 16th century. Later, it was relayed to the Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria and the northern Chinese provinces. After it was introduced, the intellectuals of the Joseon Dynasty held many debates about its pros and cons, but King Jeongjo was always on the side of the supporters. The king thought tobacco had medicinal properties and could even cure depression.
Some called tobacco an “herb from a barbarian land.” The king disagreed, saying, “The same people who reject tobacco dedicate watermelon that came from the barbarian land of Uyghur at memorial services for their ancestors.”
He even declared, “I want to share the medicinal effects and other benefits of tobacco with the people by distributing tobacco to everyone in my territory.”
The harmful effects of tobacco, as pointed out by the Joseon scholars, were the following: smoking can start a fire, heavy smoking makes people feel tired, smoke makes clothes and wallpaper darker, smoking makes nonsmokers cough, and smoking makes teeth darker.
Today, everyone knows smoking causes a lot of diseases. Our ancestors at least suspected some of the bad side effects that smoking has on the human body. They saw that smoking is harmful because it makes people feel tired or dizzy and that it is also harmful to nonsmokers.
Nowadays, nonsmokers seem to be winning a complete victory on every front. Therefore, King Jeongjo’s views on smoking and his supportive remarks have become a subject of ridicule. They don’t make any sense now. Smokers are now in the lowest class of minorities and don’t deserve a word of compassion.
Starting this September, every bus stop in Seoul will be designated as a nonsmoking area. Seoul Grand Park and the Grand Children’s Park in Seoul will become nonsmoking areas this month and eight other parks in Seoul, including the Olympic Park and Seoul Forest, will soon be designated as nonsmoking areas. Some apartment buildings will also be designated as nonsmoking facilities. Haeundae District of Busan declared Haeundae Beach and Dongbaek Island as nonsmoking areas last month. Konkuk University is even considering giving priority to nonsmokers when the university selects its freshmen next year. Smokers are being trapped on all sides.
It’s an exaggeration of the situation that nonsmokers in Korea face, but it still helps the understanding to consider the story “The Last Smoker,” written by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a Japanese science fiction writer.
The story reads: “When the hot wind of nonsmoking swept the whole world, people started a campaign to drive every smoker out of Japan. At the entrance to every park, a sign read
The police and even the Self-Defense Forces of Japan joined together for an all-out offensive against smokers. Heavy smokers armed themselves with guns and Japanese swords, but they couldn’t defend themselves from the gang attacks by the nonsmokers.
Finally, the last 20 smokers in Japan gathered at their headquarters in the basement of a mansion apartment in Tokyo. But the Self-Defense Forces, police and nonsmoking activists found the hideout and launched an all-out attack.
After a week-long battle, most of the smokers were killed. Only two were able to escape the building. They climbed on top of the Japanese Diet building and desperately smoked their last cigarettes.
The scenes of their resistance were broadcast live via television. When one of the two was killed, someone in the crowd gathered around the building and announced through a loud speaker, “This man is a relic and a national monument of the smoking era. Let’s save his life and protect him.” A helicopter then approached him and captured him in a net. ”
Among Korean males, 45.9 percent smoked as of last year. Including women, the number of smokers in Korea is about 30 percent of the total population. According to the statistics, an average of 350 million packs of cigarettes are sold each month. The national health insurance plan receives money from every pack sold. In spite of that, smokers are treated like social lepers who should not make any noise even if they are bashed.
However, if one out of three Koreans still smokes, there should be a room for them to go.
I am also a smoker who has failed to stop smoking several times, as you might have guessed.
For smokers, the only way left is to try to find a strategy to survive and coexist, such as not smoking at public places.
The best survival strategy, of course, is to stop smoking.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun
More in Columns
Bracing for Biden
Standoff with Japan
Moon the stockbroker
Not learning from their mistakes