and the effect was immediately disruptive, but overwhelmingly a net benefit for the countries public health. Before these tobacco reforms, South Korea ranked 13th in the world for countries with the highest number of smokers.
South Korean health authorities had been reluctant to adopt anti-tobacco measures, but following the introduction of a powerful tobacco tax in 2015, the percentage of male smokers in the country dropped below 40%, the lowest since 1998. They did this by simply doubling the price of a pack of smokes with a tax.
In 2018, tobacco sales dropped by 2%, and in only 4 years since the passage of their new tax regulations, the number of smokers in the country dropped by 20%. Vaping devices and eLiquids were cited as one of the reasons for this drop, as evidenced by the vaping market only representing 2.2% of the economy in 2017, this number jumped to 9.6% in 2018.
Also interestingly gaining traction in South Korea are heat not burn devices. Heat not burn devices are battery operated smokeless alternatives to combustible cigarettes and work by heating sticks containing tobacco leaves. These refills which look like short cigarettes, must be inserted into the main device and are heated up once the latter is switched on. Similar to vaping, but with dried tobacco.
What makes it so interesting is that heat not burn devices were introduced in South Korea only two years ago, and yet according to data released by the Ministry of Economy and Finance last December, 288 million packs of “cigarettes” were sold in November, of which 35 million packs, were heat not burn refills. This equated to an 11.3%, up from 7.3% the prior year.
The December report had added that the cumulative sales of heat not burn refills had reached 295.5 million packs, with a 9.3 percent share in the overall tobacco market. Tax revenue from the manufacture and sale of all tobacco products in Korea, had totaled $9.5 billion, up 2.6% from the previous year and a massive 63.9% from the same period in 2014 before the sale tax went up sharply.
While we may not be the biggest fans of heat not burn devices, we are a bigger fan of them than traditional combustible smokes. Anything that makes the public healthier is a good alternative for any country. What do you think about this change in nicotine inhalation preferences? Will South Korea be a proven success case for a path for governments to adopt healthier smoking alternatives?