First, I am a smoker. Not a cigarette smoker, but a cigar smoker. I am not an avid smoker...I can survive without cigars...but I would like to know how cigars figure into Korean culture. I've noticed that there are plenty of cigarette smokers around (all males, it seems), and I haven't noticed any kind of smoking ban (although no one seems to smoke in restaurants - thankfully). However, what I'm asking is: Does anyone in Korea smoke cigars (real cigars - not the ones from the convenience stores)? Does Korea have any cigar stores/shops? Are cigars expensive here (U.S. prices range from $5~$12 for a typical cigar)?
Smoking in Korea is pretty much second-nature. Korea boasts one of the highest numbers of cigarettes consumed per capita and cigarettes, despite being responsible for the rise in heart disease and lung cancer, have largely escaped the heavy tax that many other nations have levied in hopes of curtailing the deadly habit.
As far as most smokers being male, I agree to a point, but it is certainly becoming more common to see young women lighting up in the confines of a smokey bar or hof. Some of the bolder ones are sucking down on the streets as well. However, there are still a lot of rules and some taboo-elements when it comes to smoking in public. For instance, many Korean males will not smoke in front of their bosses. Of course, the boss doesn't care that their employees smoke, yet subordinates continue to file out the door and out-of-sight to light-up. Much like many Western families, it's also rude to smoke in front of family members. I assume that many of these practices will become obsolete in time. Further, I'm not too sure what restaurants you happen to be eating in, but I would be hard-pressed to find one that isn't cloaked in a thick layer of smoke. I guess most of the Western or "family" restaurants don't allow smoking though.
I digress. As you mentioned, nearly every convenience store sells some sort of cigar. They're usually pretty low quality and, from my experience with fellow expats who have been cajoled in quitting smoking cigs by their girlfriends, they smell rancid. However, I am not a connoisseur in any sense of the word. Luckily for us, some one else is.
The Seoul Cigar Aficionado Society, which may or may not be active anymore, offers a short list of spots to purchase cigars.
As much of South Korea's population lives in the capital, Seoul, it is easy to understand why Korea's only cigar shops are in Seoul as well. As of this posting date, there are only three cigar retail locations with a wide range of cigars to choose from.
1. Maska's Cigar at the JW Marriott Hotel - Cuban, Non-Cuban, and Flavored Cigars such as Vanilla, Rum, Chocolate, Honey, Cherry, Peach, & Blackberry.
(Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 02-6282-2922, Web: www.maskascigars.com)
2. Pierre Ltd. at the Intercontinental Hotel - Cuban
(Email: email@example.com, Tel: 02-790-4522, Web: www.pierrecigar.com)
3. Bluebell Cigars at the Shilla Hotel - Non-Cuban
For more detailed answers, email us at: SeoulCigarAficionadoSociety@gmail.com.
I wish I knew more, but there just isn't a big cigar-puffing culture here. I would suggest starting there and see what you come up with. Any cigar smokers out there care to take a stab?