North Korea’s tobacco industry has a significant number of players, according a South Korean press report. File Photo by Max Pixel
Nov. 25 (UPI) -- North Koreans use cigarettes as currency and as a way to bribe officers, according to a South Korean press report.
Defectors in the South who spoke to local newspaper Donga Ilbo said cigarettes sell for a premium in the impoverished North, where a pack can cost as much as $20.
North Korea's tobacco industry also has a significant number of players. More than 40 firms, including Naegohyang, Taedong River Tobacco Co. and the Ryongbyong Tobacco Co., produce cigarettes for the domestic market, according to the report.
Cigarette smoking could be a cherished pastime in the Kim Jong Un regime; the North Korean leader has been spotted smoking or holding a cigarette.
In the current environment of heavy sanctions, cigarettes work as a form of currency. New slangs or euphemisms for bribes are used to refer to circumstances when cigarettes are used to coax officials or make payments.
Cigarettes are used to bribe officials at hospitals or to procure documents from government offices. At least one pack of cigarettes, ranging in value from 10 cents per pack to as much as $20, are used in bribes, defectors told the South Korean paper.
Bribes in North Korea are employed by supervisors in various organizations to appease subordinates. A defector who once held a senior-level position in the Korean Workers' Party said an organization's head should be able to give out at least one cigarette to subordinates during their breaks.
Pyongyang has previously reported to the World Health Organization the smoking rate among women is 0 percent. For men it was reported at 54.7 percent.
Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency KCNA has stated there are "no female smokers" in the relatively isolated country.
Lee Joo-hee, 33, a North Korean woman who defected, told the Donga smoking among women is considered "immoral."
Other defectors have said "grandmothers" are allowed to smoke, according to the report.