The hardening hypothesis proposes that the proportion of hardcore smokers increases when smoking prevalence declines. To evaluate whether such hardening occurs in South Korea, we examined the association between quitting behaviours, the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the proportion of hardcore smokers and smoking prevalence among local districts in South Korea.
This study used the cross-sectional data from the Korea Community Health Survey (2010–2018) to examine local district-level associations between smoking prevalence and quit attempts, quit plans, quit ratios, cigarettes smoked per day and the proportion of hardcore smokers. Panel regression analysis was performed using the indicators of hardcore smoking (quit attempts, quit plans, quit ratios, cigarettes smoked per day and proportion of hardcore smokers) as the outcome variables, and prevalence of smoking, local districts, age and sex as predictor variables.
When the smoking prevalence of the districts decreased by 1%, quit attempts, quit plans and quit ratios increased by 0.24% (95% CI 0.11 to 0.37), 0.37% (95% CI 0.26 to 0.47) and 1.71% (95% CI 1.65 to 1.76), respectively. Cigarette consumption decreased by 0.17 cigarettes per day (95% 0.15 to 0.19), and the prevalence of hardcore smokers decreased by 0.88% (95% CI 0.78 to 0.98) when smoking prevalence decreased by 1%.
Hardening of smoking did not occur in South Korea when smoking prevalence declined, which suggests tobacco control policies in South Korea have been effective in reducing smoking prevalence without increasing the proportion of hardcore smokers.