Korea Plans to Increase Cigarette Prices by 80%

December 15th, 2014 00:00
korea tobacco

Korean cigarette users are most likely to have to pay practically twice as much for a package of cigarettes, which at the moment costs 2,500 Won generally, beginning next year.

The government declared several days ago that it would force the increase of tobacco prices by 80 % by January during its steps to minimize the country’s substantial smoking rate among adult males to 29 % by 2020. “We will try to increase tobacco prices by 2,000 Won ($1.95) per package and will also try to present a pricing system where tobacco prices will come in tandem with the nation’s inflationary tension,” Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo explained in the announcement. Also beginning January, tobacco advertisements will be prohibited in all supermarkets across the country. Graphic health warnings will have to be imprinted on the side of each cigarette package starting the coming year too. At the moment, South Korea has the least expensive cigarettes among OECD countries, alongside Thailand and China. At the same time, it has one of the top smoking rates for adult males - 43.7 % - among the nations. The standard smoking rate among adult males in all 34 member countries constitutes 26 %.

The last time the government increased cigarette prices was in 2004 by about 500 Won, although the nation’s smoking rate dropped by nearly 12 % within the next two years. The rate declined from 57.8 % in 2004 to 45.9 % in 2006.

The World Health Organization suggests countries that have agreed upon its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to keep their tobacco tax to at least 70 % of the retail price. South Korea, a signatory of the treaty, has a tax of around 62 % of the retail price. After the boost, Korea’s tobacco tax will constitute 73.7 % of the retail price, as outlined by Lee Kyung-eun, representative of the Health Promotion division of the Health Ministry.

The recommended plan, however, already deals with resistance from numerous politicians, as well as members of the ruling party, who claim that it is an “indirect way of raising the taxes” paid by the nation’s low-income population, whose smoking rate is larger than high-income earners. The plan should be authorized by the parliament before the planned execution in January.

The WHO forecasts that if all countries increase their cigarette prices by 50 %, some 11 million lives could be saved from smoking-related illnesses in the coming three years.

By Steve Shepherd, Staff Writer.
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