Before I came to Korea, I was concerned about smoking. Before arriving to Korea, as a smoker, I wanted to see how smokers were seen in the public eye, especially young smokers. From my research, I found that smoking was seen as something unpleasant especially among older generations. The first thing that surprised me was the price; cigarettes in Korea are really cheap! In France, the cheapest pack of cigarettes is around 6 euros, which is around 7,500 won. When I heard that the Korean government increased the price from 2,000 won to 4,000 won, I was stupefied. Moreover, during my first days in HYU, I was a bit shocked by the number of students who smoked; they were everywhere and from all genders.
When I asked some of my nonsmoking friends what they thought about smoking, most of them told me that they were used to it and that it was not something that was much of a bother to them, but they would always tell me that they will never smoke because of the image that people will have about them. Some of them told me that their parents disregarded smokers and considered addiction as a weakness. I was not surprised by this, it was a speech that I had heard on many occasions.
However, I realized that all the research I did prior to my arrival was wrong. Yes, smoking is disregarded in Korea, (like it is in most parts of the world), but smokers can be seen everywhere. The only thing that was correct about my research was that spaces for smoking are limited in Korea. In France, we can smoke almost anywhere we want. We used to be able to smoke in restaurants before the government created new rules banning inner space smoking. But as long as we respect the non-smokers, we are allowed to smoke anywhere we want.
The thing that was a bit weird for me was the fact that in Korea you cannot walk while smoking. Of course, at night in some places, you will see people walking and smoking, but during the day, it is very rare to see such people. I found that quite interesting. In France, we are used to walking while smoking. We do not have spaces to smoke. As I said, people have a right to smoke wherever they desire, as long as you respect others. For me, being allotted a space to smoke was a bit new and sometimes the experience was weird because these spaces were always crowded. I felt like I was, in a way, not free to smoke. I totally understand the rules and the laws that governed this policy, but that didn’t mean that I was used to it.
The other thing that was interesting about smoking was that you can have smoking rooms in some restaurants, cafés, and even in clubs. In France, we see smoking as an action to do outside. Even if we smoke at home, we will always go to the balcony to smoke. So being allowed to smoke inside was a new concept for me. When I shared my opinions about this difference with my Korean friends, some of them were shocked that we were allowed to smoke everywhere in the streets in France.
I asked one of my Korean friends, Yeny, what she thought about smoking in Korea in general. She lived overseas for a while and the thing that shocked her was that Korean people threw cigarette butts on the streets. In France, if you threw away a cigarette butt, you would need to pay a fine around 60 euros, which is 75,000 won. This is why we French people are always careful to throw our cigarette butts in the trash can.
Another thing she found unique to the Korean smoking culture was the fact that smoking among the younger generation was increasing. She told me that during her collage life, most of the smokers were men and smoking as a woman was highly disregarded. She agreed on the fact that nowadays, the view on smoking was changing drastically, and she thinks that smoking should not only be confined to one gender, and I agree with her too.
The experience I had in Korea really changed the way I see smoking. In the beginning, I did not liked to be assigned spaces where you could smoke. But after a considerable amount of reflection, I think that this is a good idea. Even though in France we try our best to respect nonsmokers, our efforts do not entirely protect nonsmokers like those of Koreaʼs do. Assigning a limited zone for smokers is a good thing because it officially separates smokers from nonsmokers.