South Korea is a significant e-cigarettes market in the world, with many people who use e-cigarettes. With an increasing number of e-cigarette use, particularly for teenagers, and also studies discover risks or harms bring by vape products upon health, South Korea's government seems to strengthen the sales and use of e-cigarettes.
A recent study about vape
Recently, a Public Health Nursing study named "What influences adolescents to continuously use e‐cigarettes?," analyzes 1,556 adolescents in South Korea and aims to discovered factors that causing the increased levels of teen vaping.
This study shows that about 55.1% of the participants in the past month had used e-cigarettes for 6 to 30 days. And the remain 44.9% used them from 1 to 5 days.
According to the research, one of the main factors that encouraging teens to vape are the belief that e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional tobacco, with weak addiction and easy to be concealed. And e-cigarettes are accessible in stores with different flavors, which are attractive to teens.
Furthermore, the government in South Korea provides a higher weekly allowance so that teens could purchase e-cigarettes. This may be another vital factor for the increased rate of vaping among teens. Besides, the researchers found teens who leave alone and receive a weekly allowance, or people usually expose to second-hand smoke at home, were more likely to use vapor products frequently.
Vape boom in South Korea
E-cigarettes generally are considered as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco now are commonly used worldwide. In South Korea, the use of e-cigarettes presents rapid growth since 2014, especially after the government raised the tax for cigarettes.
According to a press release 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 eight 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."
In fact, South Korea has one of the highest smoking populations in the world. Hence, the government aims to reduce this figure via a higher tax on tobacco use. In 2015, the government had raised the price of cigarettes by about 2000 won (about 2$), and traditional cigarettes are about 4500 won.
In addition, smoking in bars and restaurants are banned by the Korean government.
Therefore, many smokers in South Korea use e-cigarettes as alternatives to cut back or quit traditional smoking.
Kim Jung-Yoon in Korea JoongAng Daily News, said:
"The e-cigarette market was booming overseas before the device became popular in Korea because tobacco prices are usually higher in foreign markets."
However, considering the increasing cigarette prices, Kim said:
"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."
The e-cigarette market is still expected to maintain and gradually grow in South Korea, with various vape devices enter the market and an increasing number of sales channels. According to the estimation, hypermarkets, supermarkets, vape shops, and tobacco companies in South Korea accounted for about 65.0% value share in the e-cigarette market in 2018.
EVALI and potential risk by vaping
EVALI stands for e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It used to call VAPI (vaping associated pulmonary illness). The new name - EVALI is in response to a growing number of severe pulmonary injuries cases by vaping since 2019.
Bans or restrictive policies about the use and sale of vape products are normally emboldened with the EVALI epidemic.
Strict policies on e-cigarettes market in South Korea
In May 2020, a vaping association in South Korea urged the government to withdraw inaccurate statements about vape, which was rejected by South Korea's Constitutional Court.
Because of the EVALI outbreak last year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea had conducted an investigation into the safety of vaping and suggested smokers refrain from vaping before the completion of the inquiry about EVALI.
A health and welfare ministry official said:
"After coordinating with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), we will conduct a full-scale investigation for the ingredient analysis of liquid-type e-cigarettes."
Also, the Korea Electronic Cigarette Association claimed in a group statement:
"The Ministry advised against using all e-cigarette products just because small amounts of vitamin E acetate were found in certain products... E-cigarette companies, most of which are independent businesses, are suffering from this steep drop in sales and from the social stigma surrounding their products."
As one of the fastest-growing e-cigarette markets globally, South Korea is attracting many international companies, such as Juul Labs. However, GS25, a major convenience store chain, had halted the sales of flavored e-cigarettes produced by Juul Labs and South Korean company KT&G, after the government warning.
Furthermore, the use and possession of vape products were banned by the South Korean Army. A press release on CNBC explained that this ban is significant. Because of the large military with more than 600,000 soldiers in South Korea.
In conclusion, though the local smoking rate is decreasing, males in South Korean are still accounted for a vital part of the total number of smokers in the world. And the e-cigarette market in South Korea still have great economic potential.