An interesting change has recently occurred in the smoking area near public places in Seoul, South Korea. Compared with the e-cigarettes held by more than half of the smokers in the smoking area a month ago, traditional cigarettes have now regained their mainstream status.
In October this year, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare issued a strong recommendation on electronic cigarettes, advising the public to stop using this product before the relevant hazard test results are available. At the same time, the South Korean government has proposed a series of improvement measures in an effort to eliminate the “dead zone” of electronic cigarette supervision.
Once “Popular” E-Cigarette
South Korea officially introduced e-cigarettes in 2007. Before the South Korean government made a strong recommendation, e-cigarettes were quite popular in South Korea.
The Korean Government’s “2018 National Health and Nutrition Survey” report shows that the smoking rate of Koreans over the age of 19 is 22.4%, a decrease of more than 10% compared with 20 years ago. However, the e-cigarette usage rate has increased to 4.3% which is the highest value after the statistics in 2013. Among men over the age of 19, 7.1% of them used e-cigarettes, compared with 1.1% of women.
In addition, data from a survey released by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare last year showed that 394 of the 1,530 smokers surveyed used electronic cigarettes, accounting for more than a quarter.
Another manifestation of the popularity of e-cigarettes is that sales of various e-cigarette products in South Korea have soared in recent years. Statistics show that domestic sales of a domestic brand of e-cigarette in the third quarter increased by 11.8% year-on-year in the third quarter, and a well-known US atomized e-cigarette brand had a monthly sales volume of 6.1 million boxes after it was launched in Korea this May.
There were three reasons for the e-cigarette’s popularity in South Korea. One is psychological cues. Businesses continue to claim that e-cigarettes are less harmful to the human body compared to traditional cigarettes, and at the same time, the technology of electronic cigarettes in terms of appearance, smoke, and the taste is getting closer to traditional cigarettes, which has attracted many smokers.
The second is the price. Despite the high price of electronic cigarettes, the price of each cigarette was lower than that of ordinary cigarettes.
The third is popular culture. Korean society has a relatively prominent pop culture, which is that it is easy to form a popular pursuit of a best-selling product. For example, two years ago, a well-known imported heated electronic cigarette product became popular among smokers after it was launched in Korea. Businesses also took advantage of the design of peripheral products such as cigarette rods and holsters, which became a fashion. According to statistics from the Korean government at the end of last year, the proportion of heated electronic cigarettes in national cigarette sales increased from 7.3% in the previous year to 11.3% in November last year.
“Strong Recommendation” to Dissuade Using E-Cigarette
The popularity of e-cigarettes in South Korea has also stirred public concerns, including that the specific harm of e-cigarettes to humans is unclear, and the “popular culture” of e-cigarette marketing is likely to have a negative impact on young people. Reports on the potential hazards of e-cigarettes in other countries and the continuous release of government regulatory measures have further aggravated the doubts of many people.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has continuously issued announcements on e-cigarettes this year. Data show that as of October 15, a total of 1,479 cases of lung epidemics related to e-cigarette use were recorded in the United States.
Subsequently, the Korean government quickly followed up. South Korea ‘s Ministry of Health and Welfare held a press conference on October 23, “strongly recommend” that the public stop using e-cigarettes before the test results on the harm of atomized e-cigarettes are released, and especially remind young people, pregnant women, patients with respiratory diseases and Do not smoke atomized electronic cigarettes, such as smokers.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Welfare said at a press conference that there have been many cases of lung diseases caused by nebulized electronic cigarettes in the United States, and suspected cases have also occurred in South Korea. Therefore, the government made a recommendation to stop using it and will begin to detect the harm of electronic cigarettes.
According to South Korean media reports, a case of respiratory patients associated with atomized electronic cigarettes appeared in South Korea in October this year. The patient previously changed from smoking ordinary cigarettes to using electronic cigarettes.
The measures proposed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare are not compulsory and can only be consciously followed by the public. However, after the government made a statement, the sales situation of e-cigarettes in the Korean market has changed significantly. South Korea’s three major convenience store chains responded to the government’s suggestion and removed a large number of atomized electronic cigarettes. Convenience store chains are one of the major sales channels for cigarettes in South Korea, accounting for about 70% of the country’s total sales. The Korea Electronic Cigarette Federation said that after the government issued a strong recommendation, the sales of atomized electronic cigarettes in Korea plummeted by 70%.
At the same time, although the government’s proposal this time only refers to the atomized type of e-cigarettes, users of other types of e-cigarettes have generally raised doubts and many people have stopped smoking. This is the change in smoking areas in public places, as mentioned at the beginning of the article.
The rise of e-cigarettes in South Korea has nothing to do with the vagueness of the South Korean government’s regulatory requirements in this area, especially since e-cigarettes cannot currently be classified under cigarette-related regulations.
When it comes to regulatory policies, the definition and classification of e-cigarettes need to be clarified first. According to the general definition, electronic cigarettes are electronic products that mimic cigarettes. Nicotine or other components are converted into steam by means of atomization and other means for users to inhale. At present, electronic cigarette products mainly distributed in the Korean market can be roughly divided into two categories: Heat-Not-Burn and atomization type. Atomization electronic cigarettes can be divided into two types containing nicotine and no nicotine.
The current “Cigarette Business Law” stipulates that tobacco leaf or a part of tobacco leaf is processed and produced as raw material, and products that can suck or inhale steam, can chew or smell are all considered as cigarette products. According to this definition, only products containing nicotine extracted from tobacco leaves are classified as cigarettes, and products containing nicotine extracted or synthesized from tobacco rhizomes are not classified as cigarettes. Therefore, many atomized electronic cigarettes and heated electronic cigarettes are avoided from being classified into cigarettes by avoiding the use of tobacco leaves as raw materials.
It can be said that e-cigarettes are currently in a “dead zone” of legal supervision in South Korea. The important impact of whether it can be classified as a cigarette product is whether e-cigarettes are suitable for a series of policies designed by the Korean government to urge people to quit smoking, including raising tobacco tax rates and cigarette prices and restricting related advertising.
South Korea currently levies 2914.4 won (approximately $3.86) on a pack of 20 cigarettes, including 1700 won (approximately $1.46) for cigarette consumption, 841 won (approximately $0.72) for national health promotion, and 594 won (approximately $0.51) for individual consumption taxes.
E-cigarettes are currently listed as industrial products in Korea and are not subject to tobacco tax.
Specifically, the tax rate of atomized electronic cigarettes is based on nicotine content, and a tax of 1799 won (approximately $1.54) per ml of nicotine solution, including 628 won (approximately $0.54) for cigarette consumption, 525 won (approximately $0.45) for national health promotion, Individual consumption tax is 370 won (approximately $0.32). Some atomized electronic cigarettes have less nicotine content, so the tax amount per box can be reduced to about 1,200 won (approximately $1.03).
Each box (20 sticks) of heated electronic cigarettes is levied at 2595.4 won (approximately $2.22), which includes a cigarette consumption tax of 897 won (approximately $0.77), which is only about half of the ordinary cigarette consumption tax. In addition, the national health promotion burden and individual consumption tax are 750 ($0.64)won and 529 won ($0.45), respectively.
In fact, the Korean government had already raised a tax on heated e-cigarettes in October 2017, raising the tax rate for such e-cigarettes from 52% to 90%. Kim Dong-soo, then the Minister of Planning and Finance of South Korea, said there was no link between higher taxes and commodity prices. However, manufacturers of heated electronic cigarettes soon announced that they would raise the price of cartridges from 4,300 won (approximately $3.69) per box to 4,500 won (approximately $3.86), the same level as ordinary cigarettes.
As the potential harm of e-cigarettes is getting more and more public attention, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare also proposed a series of related regulatory legislation improvements in October this year.
First, the definition of cigarettes will be expanded from the previous tobacco leaf raw material products to products involving raw materials such as tobacco stems and tobacco roots. Mandatory tobacco manufacturers and importers, including e-cigarettes, are required to provide cigarettes and smoke. List of ingredients and additives. At the same time, banning the addition of fragrances to products in stages may induce young people and women to smoke.
Second, the “National Health Promotion Law” was amended so that when e-cigarettes have a negative impact on public health, relevant departments can take measures such as confiscation and embargoes in a timely manner.
Third, complete the investigation and research on the harmfulness of electronic cigarettes as soon as possible, especially to confirm whether electronic cigarettes can cause lung diseases.
At the same time, the Ministry of Planning and Finance of the Republic of Korea and other departments will strictly review and approve e-cigarette manufacturers and importers in accordance with the “Basic Safety Law” and “Basic Consumer Law” of the products, including requiring e-cigarette manufacturers and importers to submit information on main ingredients. When the nicotine content exceeds 1%, the importer must submit the toxic substance import declaration materials. To import products that use nicotine as the source of nicotine extraction, you must submit documents such as manufacturing permits in the exporting country.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare also plans to promote the dangers of e-cigarettes to young people through education departments and schools at all levels of the government, and at the same time increase the crackdown on the sale of e-cigarettes to young people.
However, some South Korean media analysts believe that the implementation of these improvements still faces many difficulties. For example, the amendment to the definition of cigarettes involves the amendment of the “Cigarette Business Law”, and then involves a series of changes to a series of tax policies, such as “cigarette consumption tax”, “local education tax”, “individual consumption tax”, and “national health promotion burden”. “.
In addition, some South Koreans have urged the government to introduce improvement measures based on the public’s health as a fundamental starting point, instead of focusing solely on the economic benefits of increased taxes.
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