South Korea

South Korea signed the FCTC on July 21, 2003.  The treaty was ratified almost two years later on May 16, 2005.
Country Profile:
Capital City Seoul
Population (2007 estimate) 48,606,790
Life expectancy (2007 estimate) Men: 76.01 years, Women: 82.7 years
Ethnic groups Korean 97.7%, Japanese 2%, Chinese 0.1%, Caucasian 0.1%, Other 0.1%
Religions Christian 26.3% (Protestant 19.7%, Roman Catholic 6.6%), Buddhist 23.2%, Other or unknown 1.3%, None 49.3%
Languages Korean, English
GDP per capita (2006) $24, 500
Median age 35.8 years
Literacy 97.9%
An independent Korean state or collection of states has existed almost continuously for several millennia.  Between its initial unification in the 7th century – from three predecessor Korean states – until the 20th century, Korea existed as a single independent country.  In 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea became a protectorate of imperial Japan, and in 1910 it was annexed as a colony.  Korea regained its independence following Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945.  After World War II, a Republic of Korea (ROK) was set up in the southern health of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north (the DPRK).  During the Korean War (1950-53), US troops and UN forces fought alongside soldiers from the ROK to defend South Korea from DPRK attacks supported by China and the Soviet Union.  An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.  Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth with per capita income rising to roughly 14 times the level of North Korea.  In 1993, Kim Young-sam became South Korea’s first civilian president following 32 years of military rule.  South Korea today is a fully functioning modern democracy.  In June 2000, a historic first North-South summit took place between the South’s President Kim Dae-jung and the North’s leader Kim Jong Il.
Administrative Divisions:
Jeju Special Self-governing Province (
Jeollabuk-do (
Jeollanam-do (
Chungcheongbuk-do (
Chungcheongnam-do (
Gyeongsangbuk-do (
Gyeongsangnam-do (
Metropolitan Cities:
Economic Overview:
Since the 1960s, South Korea had achieved an incredible record of growth and integration into the high-tech modern world economy.  Four decades ago, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.  In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies.  Today its GDP per capita is equal to the lesser economies of the EU.  This success was achieved by a system of close government/business ties, including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries, and a strong labour effort.  The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption.  The Asian financial crisis of 1997-99 exposed longwithstanding weaknesses in South Korea’s development model, including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector.  GDP plunged by 6.9% in 1998, then recovered by 9.5% in 1999 and 8.5% in 2000.  Growth fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial reforms had been stalled.  Led by consumer spending and exports, growth in 2003 was an impressive 7% despite anemic global growth.  Between 2003 and 2006, growth moderated to about 4-5%.  A downturn in consumer spending was offset by rapid export growth.  Moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income characterizes this solid economy.
Smoking Prevalence and Related Costs:
  • one in two adult males smoke (about 8 million), the highest rate among OECD countries
  • 4% of South Korean women smoke
  • smoker image is seen as “macho”
  • in 2006, estimated 21% of male high school students were smokers compared to 16% in 2004
  • smoking culture is very strong in the army that it is almost impossible to refuse a smoke offer from a senior or a superior ranking officer
  • smoking culture is also aided by relatively low-cost of cigarettes and no tax in the army barracks for purchasing cigarettes
  • smokers blame their habit on South Korea’s highly competitive market – turning to smoking and drinking to relieve stress
  • about 73% of male smokers and 18% of female smokers contracted lung cancer
  • smoking is the leading cause of death in the country; more than 40,000 people dying every year from smoking-related diseases
  • smoking cost 10 trillion won a year in terms of health-care expenses and lost man-hours
Smoking Policies:
Smoking is banned in all buildings designated as “smoke-free”, including hospitals, day-care centers and schools.  Non-smoking zones are required in many other venues, including internet cafes, baseball and soccer stadiums, and outdoor platforms of subway stations.  All public health centers across the nation provide free clinics for those who want to stop smoking.
ITC Researchers:
Dr. Hong-Gwan Seo
Dr. Yoo-Seock Cheong
Dr. Min-Kyung Lim
Dr. Yeol Kim
Dr. Jae-Gahb Park
Dr. Yeong-Su Ju
Dr. Yu-Jin Paek
South Korea Contact Information
Anne Quah, Project Manager. Email:
Seo Hong-Gwan, Principal Investigator. Email:
ITC Affiliated Institutions:
Sources: CIA World Factbook; AsiaOne Health; Park, E. (2006). School-based smoking prevention programs for adolescents in South Korea: A systematic review. Health Education Research, 21, 407-415.
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