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Effects of an 80% cigarette price increase on quit attempts, successful quitting and smoking intensity among Korean adult smokers

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Cigarette packs to carry graphic health warnings

Starting Friday, graphic warnings about the harmful effects of smoking will be attached to cigarette packs sold in South Korea.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, all cigarette packs sold here, including those sold at duty-free shops, must carry one of 10 designated full-color and disturbing photos with warnings on the adverse effects of smoking.

Some of the photos depict the body parts of smokers suffering from fatal diseases such as lung cancer, oral cancer, heart attack and strokes. Text warnings include those about the dangers of secondhand smoke, smoking while pregnant, as well as possible side effects such as sexual dysfunction, skin aging and premature death.

The graphic health warnings must be placed on the upper part of both sides of cigarette packets. The photos are required to cover more than 30 percent of both sides of each packet, the ministry said.

The ministry also plans to resume anti-smoking TV ads, introducing real cases of victims of smoking. It had stopped doing so 14 years ago.

It will take one month before the cigarette packs with the warnings will appear in the market due to production and distribution procedures. However, some of the cigarette packs with graphic warnings will be released at retail stores starting Friday for promotion purposes near crowded downtown areas such as Gwanghwanmun, Yeouido and Gangnam, the ministry added.

Anti-smoking campaigns that use such visual images were first introduced in Canada in 2001. Such practices are currently adopted by 101 countries around the world.

“After reviewing figures from 18 countries which adopted the graphic health warning labels, it was found that the smoking rate fell by 13.8 percent in Brazil, while the average for these countries was around 4 percent, after these labels were attached,” said the ministry official.

In June, the National Assembly approved a bill that makes it obligatory for tobacco-makers to display graphic warnings on cigarette packs to promote people’s health.

Under the law, the graphics will be replaced every 24 months and a notice about the next 10 photos will be announced six months ahead of the replacement. Violators of the law will face up to a year in jail or up to 10 million won ($12,000) in fines, or revocation of the company’s business license.

The smoking rate among South Koreans, aged 19 or older, dropped to 39.3 percent last year from 43.1 percent in 2014. It marked the first time that South Korea’s smoking rate fell below 40 percent.

The decrease came after sharp hikes in tobacco prices here. The government raised tobacco prices by 2,000 won (USD 1.67) per pack in January as part of an anti-smoking campaign.

The ministry announced last year that it aims to lower the smoking rate among South Korean men to 29 percent by 2020.

By Kim Da-sol (

KT&G cigarettes smuggled into S. America, messing up local market

By Lee Hyo-sik

Billions of KT&G Esse and Pine cigarette brands have been smuggled into Chile, Guatemala and other South American nations this year, distorting the region’s tobacco market, according to industry officials there Tuesday.

The officials told The Korea Times that made-in-Korea goods account for more than 50 percent of the contraband cigarettes in some countries. They urged Korea’s largest tobacco company, headed by CEO Baek Bok-in, to take steps to prevent its products from being smuggled and sold on the black market in South America.

They say the increasing volume of illegally traded KT&G products has tarnished Korea’s image at a time when more and more Latin American consumers buy made-in-Korea vehicles, electronics and other consumer goods, as hallyu, the Korean cultural wave, sweeps the region.

An executive at one multinational tobacco firm operating in Chile said as much as 25 percent of the nation’s cigarettes sales were made on the black market, adding that the ratio has been increasing since Chile raised a tobacco sales tax in 2010.

“The majority of the falsified cigarettes were manufactured in Korea and India, most of which were smuggled from Bolivia,” said the executive, who declined to be named. “Contraband cigarettes are much cheaper because they are not taxed. The size of Chile’s cigarette black market has been expanding rapidly. It is estimated that KT&G’s Pine and Esse brands account for more than 50 percent of the black market cigarettes.”

The Korean cigarette maker supplies Esse and Pine to three importers in Bolivia: ZABIM SRL, ZAIRE and BBS SRL. However, substantial amounts of cigarettes brought into Bolivia through a Chilean port have been smuggled back into Chile.

KT&G produces Esse brand cigarettes for export at its main Shintanjin plant, South Chungcheong Province, and its plant in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, makes Pine brand cigarettes for overseas markets.

“100 percent of Korean products seized in Chile have the Bolivian stamp. In a bid to curb the influx of KT&G cigarettes into the nation’s black market, tobacco companies here filed a complaint with the Korean Embassy in Chile. But nothing has been done,” the executive told The Korea Times. “We believe that KT&G is well aware of this situation, but it hasn’t done anything either. This has seriously damaged Korea’s image in the country.”

In November alone, the Chilean government seized 4.2 million KT&G brand cigarettes.

Guatemala has also been struggling to deal with the soaring volume of KT&G contraband. Pine Change and Esse Change brands, initially shipped to neighboring Belize, are smuggled into Guatemala, distorting its tobacco market.

“Guatemala is another country hit by the influx of smuggled KT&G cigarettes. Despite several initiatives by the authorities there to stop the problem, KT&G brands continue to enter the market, accounting for over 45 percent of the total contraband in Guatemala City and its adjacent areas,” the executive said. “The Guatemalan government has so far seized over 32 million cigarettes, 25 percent of which are KT&G brands.”

Tarnishing Korea’s image

The increasing volume of illicitly traded KT&G cigarettes has adversely affected Korea’s image abroad, according to an official at one of the foreign cigarette makers in Korea, who said the nation’s largest tobacco firm should ensure its products are sold abroad legally.

“KT&G has turned a blind eye to what happens to its products after selling them. But it shouldn’t,” the official said. “The company must make sure that its cigarettes are distributed and sold legally in foreign markets. Otherwise, this would cause further damage to its corporate brand and adversely affect Korea’s image.”

In response, KT&G officials said they are unaware of the large-scale smuggling of its cigarettes in South America, arguing the products are shipped to legitimate buyers through legal channels.

“We place an official stamp issued by the Bolivian government on all our products exported to that country,” a KT&G spokesman said. “As far as we know, our cigarettes have always been exported legitimately. But there is no way for us to know how the products are distributed and sold afterward.”

In 2015, the company sold 46.5 billion cigarettes in more than 50 foreign countries, compared to its domestic sales of 40.6 billion.

The Middle East accounted for 48.8 percent of KT&G’s overseas sales, followed by Latin America and Europe with 14.2 percent, and Central Asia with 11.5 percent. The Esse brand cigarettes were the most popular, accounting for 55.5 percent of the firm’s total sales abroad, followed by Pine with 29.2 percent and Time at 5.3 percent.

Tax hike drives tobacco firms into corner

YANGSAN, South Gyeongsang Province ― Philip Morris Korea suffered a sales drop of nearly 18 percent in the first quarter, year-on-year because of a hike in tobacco prices driven by the government’s cigarette tax increase of 2,000 won ($1.85) in January.

The company’s domestic sales are expected to decline further as the number of smokers falls because of the government’s anti-smoking measures and, in the long run, low birth rates.

Against the odds, the Korean unit of the multinational cigarette maker is trying to secure sustainable growth. And one way of doing this is by increasing exports.

“We are trying hard to increase exports (of cigarettes produced in Korea) to make up for domestic losses,” Kim Byung-cheol, director of Philip Morris Korea, told reporters at the firm’s factory. “Our products were proven to be competitive internationally.”

The company exported 4.5 billion cigarettes to Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and several other countries last year. It aims to ship 10 billion this year.

“We are trying to expand in the Asian market,” Kim said. “And things are progressing smoothly.” But he did not give details.

Kim said the company would try to rebound in the local market by developing new products that met the taste of Korean smokers. The launch of Marlboro Zing Fusion in early April was the latest move, he said.

He said that the company was considering developing new products with tobacco leaves harvested in Korea.

“We want to make a bigger contribution to the tobacco industry,” Kim said.

Asked about the cigarette tax hike, he said the policy had created various side effects that challenged tobacco companies’ bottom lines as well as public health.

“The tax hike has led to a steep increase in smuggling of low-priced foreign cigarettes into the nation,” Kim said. “There are many other side effects caused by the sudden and steep tax increase. The government should have increased the tax gradually, in proportion with the growth of gross domestic product.”

Philip Morris Korea’s sales last year were estimated at 703 billion won, with 188 billion won in operating profit.

As Kim Jong Un Puffs Away, A Push to Curb Smoking in North Korea

(Bloomberg) — North Korea executes officials and arbitrarily imprisons those seen as enemies of the state. Its citizens struggle to put food on the table.

Yet when it comes to North Koreans kicking their cigarette habit, Kim Jong Un’s government is willing to help.

As countries the world over scramble to combat smoking, even one of the most repressive states on the planet is displaying concern that half its male population lights up.

The impoverished nation has one of the world’s highest lung cancer rates. To examine ways to cut the number of smokers, they’ve turned to one of the world’s leading anti-tobacco campaigners, Judith Mackay, who has counseled kings, presidents and vigilantes in a three-decade war on smoking.

“They’re facing the headaches health officials all over the world are: it’s the same product, same concerns, same consequences,” said Mackay, a senior policy adviser to the World Health Organization. “At this moment in time, North Korea has a unique opportunity to stub out this epidemic.”

Inspecting Troops

Officials in Kim’s government seem more concerned than their boss about the potential damage of tobacco use. In December, weeks after the North Korean dictator vanished for 40 days last year due to health problems attributed to his lifestyle, he was pictured in state media inspecting troops, his trademark cigarette still in hand.

Since coming to power three years ago, Kim has frequently been caught on camera smoking: sitting on a bed during an official hospital visit; alone on a ski lift; alongside a specially placed ashtray at the theater; even at the site of a rocket launch.

While the majority of the country’s 24 million people face chronic food shortages, it emerged from famine in the 1990s with a better child nutrition record on some indicators than India or Indonesia. The hermit kingdom is also working on enforcing bans in smoke-free areas and studying raising prices from as little as 27 U.S. cents a pack now to a deterrent level, Mackay says.

Even so, getting people to quit will be a challenge with the nation’s ingrained smoking culture and Kim’s penchant for 727s, a brand named after “Victory Day,” marking the end of the Korean War in 1953 when the split with South Korea was cemented.

“Cigarettes are more or less omnipresent in Kim’s public appearances,” said Adam Cathcart, a lecturer at the University of Leeds, who studies North Korea-China relations. “He’s very obviously addicted, even when he’s not smoking he’s fidgeting with his cigarette pack through his trench coat.”

Mackay has a track record in one-party states. She considers a 2012 meeting with the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Party School one of the pinnacles of her career, and says policy directives that followed led to a “sea change” in the commitment to tobacco control in the country.

Three decades ago, when she began campaigning against smoking in China, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping smoked in public often. Today, none of the seven elite Politburo Standing Committee members are seen holding cigarettes and the State Council is weighing laws to make all public places smoke-free. While it’s too early to gauge the impact of China’s measures, which are not in force yet, the WHO says they could fuel a discernible decline in the smoking rate.

Soccer Team

Mackay’s work in North Korea began a decade after she lent a helping hand to some of the country’s soccer heroes in 2002.

She and her husband helped sponsor some parts of a trip taken by stars of the nation’s 1966 World Cup team, when the athletes revisited the town of Middlesbrough, England, where a documentary about them — called ‘The Game of Their Lives’ — had been filmed. The Mackays made the gesture after reading a newspaper report about how the ex-players were short of funds to attend an event commemorating a match where they famously defeated Italy.

When the couple planned a tourist visit to Pyongyang in 2012, health officials granted her a rare official meeting when they found out about her “unique contribution,” she said.

Mackay has returned several times since, meeting ministers of health, finance and education to discuss tobacco-control plans. North Korea has a five-year plan to fight non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, in line with other countries following WHO programs.

Kim, who is believed to be around 30, is sometimes the face of that campaign. Examples of clips regularly broadcast on state media are ones of Kim explaining the health benefits of eating fish or even admiring some new exercise machines, Cathcart said.

Swiss Cheese

“He sort of sounds like Michelle Obama at times,” Cathcart says, referring to the U.S. First Lady’s public health mission. “His concern for the well-being of the North Korean people is supposed to be all-encompassing.”

While accounts of Kim’s love for vodka and Swiss cheese swirled in foreign press when he disappeared from view after Sept. 3 of last year, smoking stands out as the bad health habit he indulges in so publicly. Kim’s father, former leader Kim Jong Il, was also often pictured smoking.

Officials in Pyongyang are still in an early stage of tobacco control and forming legislation, but they’re “intensely interested” in learning what other nations have experienced, Mackay said.

Children Smoking

During the 46-year rule of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s medical system was extensive, according to Hazel Smith, the director of University of Central Lancashire’s International Institute of Korean Studies. Life expectancy doubled from 31 in the 1950s to almost 70 by 1989, said Smith, who lived in Pyongyang from 1998 to 2001 while working for UN agencies.

When famine ravaged the nation in the mid-1990s, infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis soared, she said. Smoking was sometimes the only available solace, even among children.

“If they couldn’t find food they’d pick up cigarette butts and re-roll whatever tobacco remained with discarded paper,” journalist Barbara Demick wrote in her 2009 book ’Nothing to Envy.’ “Almost all the children smoked to dampen their hunger.”

Since the economy stabilized at the turn of the millennium, North Korea restarted public health campaigns on everything from the importance of washing hands to getting vaccinated.

“Action can happen quickly if North Korea decides to do it,” Mackay said, referring to the country’s all-powerful government. “Not many countries in the world are in that position.”

Male Habit

The male smoking rate was 52.3 percent in 2012, according to the WHO’s country office, with a zero smoking rate among women. Women typically do not smoke in public as it is considered an inappropriate activity for their gender, according to George Washington University PhD student and North Korea scholar Benjamin R. Young.

Many men pick up the habit when they’re serving their mandatory military duty, which can last up to a decade, Simon Cockerell, general manager at Koryo tours, who has been to North Korea more than 140 times since 2002 and organizes tourist visits there.

North Korean men are “among the world’s most prolific smokers,” said Catherine O’Connor, senior analyst at market research firm Canadean. “While it is clear that official policy of North Korea is to reduce per capita levels, the absence of any real policies to reduce tobacco use suggests this is far from the case and indicates that smoking rates within the country will remain high.”

The per capita consumption of tobacco is expected to increase 19 percent to 23.3 billion cigarettes smoked a year by 2022, fueled by low-cost domestic brands and younger people taking up the habit, according to O’Connor.

Cigarette brands have names like Ggulbol (honey bee), Dungdae (lighthouse) and Pungnyon (fruitful year) in the country. Some North Koreans like to smoke foreign brands to show off their status, Cockerell said, such as Mild Sevens, the Japanese cigarettes now known as “Mevius.” Kim smokes the domestic ’727’ brand, he added.

Tobacco Business

It is hard to estimate the size of the tobacco industry relative to the economy, O’Connor said in an e-mail, as it remains one of the world’s most secretive societies. The country’s economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2013 to about $30 billion, South Korea’s Bank of Korea said in June, putting it on a par with Bolivia.

Smoking is allowed almost everywhere, though not near the statues of the Kims that dot the country, as it would be disrespectful to have cigarette butts around those, according to Koryo’s Cockerell.

Global “no-smoking day” campaigns are announced on the news, though more common are reports of Kim Jong Un’s tours and visits where he’s holding a cigarette in his hand, he said.

The impact of that in the psyche of the smoker’s mind isn’t clear. In a country of 24 million people, “no way are they just listening to one person, that’s a myth,” Smith added.

Mackay says sometimes people express shock when she tells them she’s helping North Korea, citing its record of human rights abuses. The campaigner is undeterred.

“I’ll work in any country which has smokers,” she said. “I say to them: ‘if you feel that the North Korean people are suffering, do you want them to suffer even more?’”

To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brian Bremner at; Anjali Cordeiro at

Neil Western