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Government Plans to Ban Smoking Scenes in K-Dramas Raise Questions About On-Screen Alcohol, Drugs, and Violence

Netizens are puzzled by the South Korean government’s recent announcements regarding media censorship. On February 4, Herald Corporation reported that Netflix and other online video streaming services (OTT) are facing criticism for exposing smoking scenes without restrictions, which is believed to encourage youth smoking. In response, the South Korean government intends to suggest limiting the depiction of smoking scenes to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare disclosed its participation in the 10th Conference of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) set for later this month. Their aim is to implore member countries to adopt measures to curtail the portrayal of tobacco and smoking scenes across OTT platforms and other mediums.

Stills from Netflix K-drama “Doona.”

Currently, in K-dramas and entertainment shows, smoking scenes are either omitted or discreetly blurred out, but on OTT platforms, such scenes are exposed without any specific restrictions. Media outlets cite the Netflix drama ‘Doona!’ as an example, where the protagonist, played by Suzy, is frequently seen smoking to reflect the original webtoon.

Meanwhile, netizens have taken to the comments section on media platforms to address this issue with reference to other forms of depictions in media. Many voiced their opinions that cigarettes tend to get a relatively bad reputation in Korea when compared with alcoholic drinking, drug use, and violence.

Stills from Netflix K-drama “The Glory.”

Specifically, the leniency in South Korean media towards the portrayal of drinking culture and alcoholism has come under scrutiny. Korean netizens remarked that “if regulations are necessary for on-screen smoking, then they should apply equally to drinking and drug use.”

Reactions from Korean netizens include:

“Why are they cracking down on smoking scenes when there are countless scenes of characters drinking excessively and engaging in violent acts every day? What a strange country. If they’re going to censor smoking scenes, then they should also censor the heavy drinking scenes.”

“They include scenes of cutting open stomachs and hitting others with axes but they find cigarettes problematic?”

“Drugs are okay but cigarettes are not? What a strange country.”

“LOL K-dramas never ever problematize the issue of drinking alcohol.”

“There are many scenes nowadays that depict having fun after drug use; compared to this, smoking a cigarette is nearly wholesome.”

“Endless commercials of alcohol in the media but they do not allow cigarette commercials…I think they need to put those images of DUI accidents on bottles of alcohol just like the cigarette packets.”

“I don’t smoke or drink, but I can’t fathom why it’s acceptable to thematize murder, fraud, sexual abuse, bullying, and domestic violence as content in dramas and films, while they only seem concerned about cigarettes. There are far more cases of sexual assault linked to alcohol than cigarettes. Shouldn’t they ban that as well?”

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