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Adult smoking rate drops below 40%

The nation’s antismoking campaign saw great progress in 2010, with the smoking rate among men falling below 40 percent for the first time.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Sunday that 39.6 percent of male adults smoked as of December, down 3.5 percent from 43.1 percent in the same period of 2009.

Men in their 40s and 50s were found to have driven down the overall smoking rate, the ministry said.

Compared to the first half of the year, the smoking rate among 40-somethings decreased from 50 percent to 43.4 percent while that of those in their 50s dropped to 31.3 percent from 41.5 percent.

However, men in their 20s and 30s smoked more in the second half of the year, prompting a separate campaign targeting the relatively young smokers.

The smoking rate of women also declined from 3.9 percent in 2009 to 2.2 percent in the second half of 2010. But women aged 28 or younger smoked more, with 5.8 percent them using tobacco.

“More people have come to realize the health problems of smokers, with the government’s antismoking efforts going on,” said Im Jong-kyu, director general of health policy at the ministry.

The ministry questioned 3,000 smoking and nonsmoking adults in December.

The average age at which they started smoking was 21.1 and it took six months before they became a “habitual smoker,” defined as someone who smokes more than one cigarette a day.

The survey found that 58.1 percent of male smokers and 52.9 of females had attempted to quit smoking over the year.

For the reasons for failure, they cited stress (32.5 percent), lack of willingness (25.3 percent) and addiction (22.9 percent).

Even though 62.3 percent of smokers were willing to quit smoking, 67.4 percent of them said tobacco use had already become a long-held habit.

Respondents pointed out the expansion of smoke-free areas (22.8 percent) and an increase in cigarette prices (19 percent) as the most effective measures for fight against smoking.

They said 8,056 won per pack ($7.15) would be the best price for them to consider quit smoking. In Korea, a pack of cigarettes costs about 2,500 won.

A new package of antismoking measures is pending at the National Assembly. The government aims to decrease the nation’s smoking rate to the OECD average of 27.3 percent.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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