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6 Smoking etiquette to keep in Asia

Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy. Now that you’ve been warned, time to light up! Like alcohol, smoking, has a long history behind it. Depending on which country you’re in, smoking etiquette will differ. So here are some basic tips to keep in mind before you start puffing away.

  1. In China, always offer a cigarette
Offering cigarettes are a sign of respect in China.

Offering cigarettes are a sign of respect in China.

When you’re in China, it is expected that you greet someone with a cigarette. If you want to grab a quick smoke, be sure to offer a stick to those around you, regardless if they’re a smoker or not. It’s actually considered impolite if you don’t offer one with acquaintances or business associates. Hierarchy comes into play here, so if you’re outside grabbing a smoke, ALWAYS offer one to the boss. This custom is about showing respect or a sign of peace offering.

  1. In China, you are what you smoke
The Chinese may judge your social class based on what you smoke.

The Chinese may judge your social class based on what you smoke.

Want to look upscale to those around you? Chinese smokers form an opinion on your social class depending on what brand you smoke. Brands like Chungwha or Panda means you belong in the upper-class. On the other hand, if you have a low-end cigarette, it signifies you’re in the lower part of the social caste.

  1. In Japan/Korea, smoke, then walk
You'll find many of these signs lining sidewalks in Seoul.

You’ll find many of these signs lining sidewalks in Seoul.

In big cities like Seoul, Korea, or Tokyo, Japan, you can be fined for smoking on a crowded street. There are designated smoking areas in big urban cities, and keeping your smoke confined to these spots will prove financially beneficial.

  1. In Korea, dispose your cigarette butts properly

Parts of Seoul like the infamous Gangnam have strict laws against littering. Even something as small as the butt of your cigarette can cost you 50,000 won (roughly 46 USD). Find the nearest trash can or just hold onto it until you can throw it safely away.

  1. In Korea, don’t smoke in front of your elders

Now this doesn’t necessarily apply to all senior citizens in Korea. You just need to steer clear from those that have some form of affiliation with you. There are some that will stare at you if you smoke in broad daylight – especially if you’re a woman.

  1. In Asia, female smokers are frowned upon
"Smoking Area for Women"

“Smoking Area for Women”

Most Eastern countries don’t take too well to female smokers. Smoking has been regarded as a masculine trait, which is why you’ll see many of the older folks staring at lady smokers. Many female smokers would call this gender discrimination, and they would be right. But in Asian culture, elderly people still believe in this outdated social culture. So if you female smokers wish not to be judged by the cold piercing stares of the elderly, smoking in a discreet location wouldn’t be a bad idea. However, more and more women are smoking out in the open nowadays. I guess it all depends on the situation, but just keep in mind that not everyone will approve of women smoking out in the open. If you can, try to quit smoking. I may come off hypocritical because I smoke about a pack a day, but I simply don’t like to quit. On the other hand, smoking can actually be a great way to meet new people. Like alcohol, it’s also a way to get closer to people. Now that I’m done talking about smoking in Asia, does anyone have a smoke I can bum?

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

There are 2 comments

  • o0aquamentus0o says:

    “On the other hand, smoking can actually be a great way to meet new people. Like alcohol, it’s also a way to get closer to people.” To what extent would you say that being a smoker in Korea offers social advantages in the workplace? Might the social bonding opportunities exclusive to smoke breaks be one of the many insidious reasons female employees in the country could be disadvantaged when it comes to raises and promotions?

    • isaackim says:

      That’s actually a good question. Being a smoker is hazardous to your health, but in social aspects, it can be a good way to socialize. Personally, in Korea, lower level workers try not to smoke in the presence of their superiors. So in terms of promotion opportunities, it’s not likely smokers will find many during smoke breaks. As for women who smoke, it’s true they have it tough when it comes to smoking in public. However, it’s more likely to be advantageous to go out drinking with work associates.

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