Mercurial North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a habitual smoker, has ordered senior officials to smoke only domestic cigarettes, calling foreign smokes unpatriotic, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday. Kim said domestic cigarettes are good enough, a source told Yonhap.
Kim Jong Un has been photographed smoking, but Yonhap noted his preferred brand has not been noted.
It's unclear whether Kim's directive to senior officials applies just to imported cigarettes or to counterfeit cigarettes bearing foreign labels. A report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, based in Washington, earlier this year noted the Hermit Kingdom manufactures millions of cartons of cigarettes bearing such labels as Marlboro and ships them worldwide to raise hard currency.
In South Korea, Yonhap reported the government planned to crack down on bulk tobacco sales ahead of January's scheduled hike in tobacco prices. Storeowners selling large volumes of cigarettes could face two years in prison and a 50 million won ($45,000) fine.
Smokers have been stocking up ahead of the scheduled price hike. The Trade Ministry reported tobacco sales were up 12.1 percent in September and 5.9 percent in October compared to the same months last year.
“The government has proven to be ignorant of the market mechanism, as it is basically giving people a chance to break the law and buy cigarettes in bulk,” Kim Jong-seok, a business professor at Hongik University in Seoul, told Yonhap.