South Korea aims to nearly double cigarette prices to combat smoking

Thu Sep 11, 2014 6:05am EDT
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By Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea on Thursday proposed a tax hike as early as next year that would nearly double cigarette prices as the government tries to reduce one of the world's highest smoking rates among adult males.

The proposal, which needs to be approved by parliament, sent shares in dominant tobacco maker, government-backed KT&G Corp, down more than 5 percent.

It was also immediately criticized by the main opposition party, highlighting the difficulty in implementing anti-smoking regulations in a country where the health risks associated with smoking are not widely publicized.

The proposal calls for a more than 100 percent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes, which would double current prices that range between 2,000 won and 2,500 won ($1.9-$2.4) - far less than the $12 per pack that smokers pay in Australia, which recently toughened its anti-smoking laws.

The initiative also suggested banning cigarette advertisements in convenience stores and making graphic warning labels on cigarette packs mandatory.

KT&G, which sells 60 percent of all cigarettes bought in the country, declined to comment on the tax proposal.

South Koreans are among the heaviest smokers in the world: just under half of all adult males smoke, government data shows, compared to an average of 25.4 percent in the 34 countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The government said it expected higher cigarette prices to deter teenagers from picking up the habit, as research showed youth were up to four times more price-conscious than adults.   Continued...

A man smokes a cigarette in Seoul January 25, 2007. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won