About 10 per cent of Korean women in their 20s are smokers, accounting for the largest portion of all female smokers in South Korea, a government study showed Sunday.
While Korean women's smoking prevalence rates are quite low compared to other developed nations, research findings show that the rates may rise in the future if young women in their 20s as well as female teenagers continue to smoke as they grow older, according to the government report.
As of last year, only 4.3 per cent of all Korean women aged 15 or older smoked, which was far lower than the average smoking prevalence rate for women in the Organisation for Economic and Development countries, which stood at 15.7 per cent. The rate in France was 20.2 per cent, while that of Japan was 8.2 per cent.
However, the smoking prevalence rate for Korean female teenagers, which stood at 5.7 per cent, was higher than those for all age groups except women in their 20s and 30s.
Overseas studies have shown that women's empowerment is associated with increasing women's smoking prevalence rates, especially among young women.
The World Health Organisation's 2010 report found that in countries where women have higher empowerment, women's smoking rates were higher than men's, independent of the level of economic development and of the level of income inequality.
Data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey also showed that smoking rates among boys and girls worldwide resemble each other more than smoking rates among adult women and men, partly because societies are becoming increasingly tolerant of women who smoke worldwide.
The WHO report also stated that the rise of smoking among women has been affected by the tobacco industry's marketing of cigarettes to women as a "symbol of emancipation."
Regardless, medical experts stressed that cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases and reduces the health of smokers in general, regardless of one's gender.
For women, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of developing lung cancer by 26.7 times, and quadruples their risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.
In spite of its low female smoking rate, Korea is home to almost 10 million smokers, and an estimated 57,000 die each year due to smoking-related diseases including lung cancer. Last year, it had one of the highest smoking rates for adult males among OECD nations at 43.7 per cent, surpassing the OECD average of 26 per cent.
While the largest number of female Korean smokers are in their 20s and 30s, the biggest number of male smokers were in their 30s and 40s, as of last year.
The parliament last year approved an 80 per cent increase in the price of cigarettes in an effort to curb smoking. The new bill took effect on Jan.1.
Local health experts stress that it is important to make efforts to curb youth smoking rates on the connection with other issues, as studies have shown the number of teens who both drink and smoke is 6.4 times higher than those who drink but don't smoke.
Smoking teenagers are also 1.9 times more likely to be depressed and 1.4 times more likely to skip breakfast than nonsmoking teens.