Kim Jong-il Lights Up Again

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has apparently taken up smoking again after kicking the habit following a massive stroke in August 2008, South Korean government sources say.

An ashtray sits at Kim's right hand in a Korean Central News Agency photograph showing the dictator at a football stadium in North Pyongan Province on Saturday. "If a stroke patient smokes again, the chances of a relapse increase," said one neurologist. And for diabetics like Kim "smoking can cause heart disease by damaging blood vessels," he added. Kim apparently underwent heart surgery around May 2007.

In this undated photo released Saturday by the [North] Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits a newly built football stadium in North Pyongan Province. /KCNA-Yonhap In this undated photo released Saturday by the [North] Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits a newly built football stadium in North Pyongan Province. /KCNA-Yonhap

"Kim Jong-il apparently smoked Marlboro cigarettes and drank pink champagne at dinner with Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun in August last year," said one government official. "It looks like Kim Jong-il started smoking again around the first half of last year."

The North Korean leader is believed to have returned to the habit because there is nobody around him warning him of the risks. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in February said Kim looked as though he had "three years left to live." But the North Korean media has reported more than 70 so-called on-the-spot guidance tours by Kim so far this year.

Meanwhile, a diplomat says the reason China is sitting on the fence over UN Security Council action against North Korea following the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan is partly because of Kim Jong-il's health and the uncertainties facing the North Korean regime.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 22, 2010 09:32 KST