E-Cigarettes Lure More Koreans into Smoking

By Sun Jung-min | November 30, 2022 08:32
Cigarette sales in Korea have increased over the last few years due to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products despite efforts to publicize the hazards of smoking.Their sales now surpass those of traditional cigarettes as more teenagers and women are lured to trendy packaging and "glamorous" vaping devices. They are charged by USB, which adds an additional flavor of cutting-edge modernity, and some even connect to phones to track patterns.According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance on Sunday, 1.78 billion packs of cigarettes were sold during the first half of this year, up two percent compared to the same period of 2021 and 6.4 percent from the first half of 2019, rising for three straight years.Total annual sales rose from 3.44 billion packs in 2019 to 3.59 billion packs in 2020 and 2021 and even more this year. Ironically, they increased amid a respiratory pandemic. Sales of e-cigarettes soared 33 percent over the last three years to account for 14 percent of total tobacco sales. Tobacco companies insist they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes but some doctors insist that the evidence is insufficient yet.In 2019, 68 people died in the U.S. due to lung damage caused by vaping and around 2,800 people became ill, which pales in comparison to traditional cigarettes. Around 40,000 online shopping sites and offline stores in Korea sell vape pens.
Office workers smoke in Seoul in this file photo taken in April.
Tobacco companies are focusing on new types of cigarettes to avoid toughened regulations. Under Korean law, a cigarette is classified as being made of tobacco leaves, so e-cigarettes do not need to carry pictorial health warnings on the packaging.The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control says e-cigarettes include carcinogenic materials and are harmful to health. The WHO has been urging tobacco companies to post warning messages on e-cigarette packages too, but Korea is slow to respond. Nicotine is highly addictive, and doctors claim exposure to even small amounts greatly increases the risks of cancer and other illnesses.According to a government study here, 14.2 percent of men in their 30s, 10.1 percent in their 40s and 9.8 in their 20s smoke e-cigarettes, as do 3.6 percent of women in their 20s and 2.1 percent in their 30s. Among teenagers, 2.9 percent of teens smoke e-cigarettes, up from 1.9 percent in 2020, while smoking of traditional cigarettes has been declining.Market insiders believe the actual smoking rate among women and teens is higher than the government figures.

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