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The sensitivities of those who work with cigarettes are sometimes hard to fathom. Take Kim Il Sung, 31, a no doubt gifted artist from South Korea, for example. Her recent contributions to the visual arts have included a range of paintings reduced in size to fit on a cigarette paper. A graduate of biology and former employee of a cancer research institute, she is reportedly a non-smoker because she is worried about becoming addicted. Nevertheless, she hit upon her unusual medium after feeling pity for women she saw having to sneak off to the toilets in public buildings in order to smoke, away from what she called the “prejudiced gaze” of others. She felt she could help them become more open about their smoking, through her art.
However, when Kim approached a cigarette company to suggest the logical next stage, that her art works should become the real thing and be made, sold and smoked, the response she got was as surprising as her own apparently confused attitudes to smoking. The manufacturers were concerned that the paints could be harmful.
This touching concern for the health of customers is nothing new. About a quarter of a century ago, a British health education poster featured a close up photograph of someone smoking a cigarette with the health warning printed along the length of the white paper of the cigarette, with the caption, “Would you ignore it if it was under your nose?”. Inspired by this idea, a tobacco control advocate persuaded a progressive health minister engaged in “voluntary agreement” negotiations with tobacco companies to ask them to place such warnings on every cigarette. Realising immediately the utter desecration this would wreak on the iconic white purity of their product, tobacco executives could only swallow hard and promise to look into it. At the next round of negotiations, they solemnly reported that their scientists could never permit such a move—in case the burned printing ink was carcinogenic!