E-cigarettes Boom in Korea

July 27 2015

With the rise of e cigarette in our society today, we can see it becoming a world phenomenon. In the case of South Korea, the e-cigarette boom has come only recently. Though most people were still smoking traditional cigarettes, the e-cigarette boom has only occurred starting in the year 2014.

The incident that spurred on the popularity of e-cigarettes in Korea was due to the tax enforced upon traditional cigarettes. According to Gary Cox on Vaping.com: the “use of electronic cigarettes ballooned in Korea in 2014(after an 80% tax hike on tobacco products was imposed).Sales growth for vape grew steadily but incrementally through the first 8 months, took a slight dip in September, when the tax was announced, then doubled in October, and by the end of the year two months later, had doubled the October figure again”.

The Korean government acknowledging that Korea has one of the highest smoking populations in the world attempted to reduce this figure by imposing more tax on tobacco use. Though the government had increased the cigarette price by 500 won in the year 2004, this time they raised the price of cigarettes by about 2000 won which is equivalent to approximately 2 U.S. dollars. Currently, the price for traditional cigarettes in South Korea is about 4500 won. Additionally, the Korean government has banned all smoking in bars and restaurants and is enforcing this law by fining those to choose not to comply.

In response, many South Koreans turned to the e-cigarettes as a new alternative to cut back or quit traditional smoking. According to Kim Jung-Yoon in Korea JoongAng Daily News, “The e-cigarette market was booming overseas before the device became popular in Korea because tobacco prices are usually higher in foreign markets”. However, with the increased cigarette prices, “The global market, which was worth $20 million in 2008, has surged to $1.7 billion at the end of last year. The local market was estimated to be worth 50 billion won as of January. There are currently 2,000 types of e-cigarettes available, most of which are produced by small and medium manufacturers” (Kim Jung-Yoon). The e-cigarette market is still expected to grow in Korea as new devices such as the relatively new mod devices are starting to find their way to Korea.

The price seems to have been a key player in spurring on the popularity of e-cigarettes in Korea. Also included in Kim Jung-Yoon’s article is about a 30-year-old pilot, Kim Joon-hong who has switched to using e-cigarettes from traditional cigarettes. Not wanting to quit entirely, he says “I usually smoke one pack of cigarettes a day, which used to cost me around 75,000 won a month. Now that the prices of cigarettes have almost doubled, it will cost me around 150,000 won per month, however, with the e-cigarette, I only spend around 30,000 won for the nicotine liquid, which lasts a month”.

With an increased population of e-cigarette users along with the high demand and popularity of such products, more South Koreans can be seen using e-cigarettes. As the development with e-cigarettes continues, new devices such as the mod, which is still quite uncommon in Korea, is showing signs of emerging.

With the increased tax on cigarettes and the government showing no signs of reducing the prices, one can predict that the demand for e-cigarettes in South Korea will continue to increase. Though the South Korean government is still imposing restrictions on e-cigarettes as well as labeling them as equally harmful or even more harmful than traditional cigarettes, the trend in Korea shows that the general smoking population is regarding e-cigarettes as an effective alternative to that of traditional cigarettes in both price and health.