South Korea is becoming more health-conscious. Koreans are kicking the habit in growing numbers and telling smokers to butt out of public places.

South Korea Anti Smoking No Smoking Non Smoking In the late 90’s, cigarette makers experienced the kind of market boom in Asia that they hadn’t seen in the USA in years. Big tobacco enjoyed a tightening grip on Asian asian wallets and lungs; things were looking good. But in the last decade, an emerging health consciousness, popularly known as the wellbeing trend, has threatened to send the plans of cigarette makers up in smoke.

South Korea, for one, has seen a precipitous drop in smoking. In 2000, 70-80 percent of South Korean men were smokers. That number has tumbled to around 40% today. It’s no Bhutan, which banned all tobacco in 2004, but that’s still an impressive improvement. Why the sudden decrease in smoking?

Anti smoking campaigns are a big part of the answer. Some campaigns involve music for teens, and others health education; some even involve Disney characters. Last year, the capitol of Seoul banned smoking at all 8,600 bus stops and at eight public parks. In 2005, Seoul found a way to make an anti-smoking campaign “cute” in a Disney way. They decorated one of the lines with images of prematurely aged smoking Pete Pans and Snow Whites saying no to the wicked witch’s poison cigarette. Workers also dressed as these characters and handed out free smoking patches and gave candy to anyone with healthy breathing capacity (a sign of a non-smoker).

South Korean anti smoking song to appeal to youth

This week, Seoul announced another anti smoking campaign. Titled “Non-Secondhand Smoking,” the first aspect of the campaign will be a short, two-day distribution of smoking information at busy subway stops. More interesting will be a survey of restaurants where smoking is banned.

Yes, smoking is still legal in restaurants and bars in South Korea. Another stronghold of the cancer stick is in the thousands of dimly lit computer game parlors, called PC rooms, where Korean youth spend countless hours doing battle with an endless stream of cyber aliens.

But all that is changing. Seoul’s eventual plan is to make itself a non-smoking city. It’s still hard to imagine, but could South Korea become the health-conscious, non-smoking California of the East?

Photo: SuperFantastic via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.