According to the South Korean Customs Office the imports of cigarettes into the country dropped by 14.4% in 2014, reaching $15.9 million in value, down from $18.57 million in 2013, while at the same time a marked increase was observed in the imports of e-cigarettes.
Some argue that this is indicative of the fact that many smokers in South Korea have decided to stop smoking, or seek other alternatives to the smoking of regular cigarettes, especially in the light of the recent government decision, which came into effect on 1st January, to raise the average price of a pack of cigarettes by 2,000 won (US$1.84), in an attempt to push the public to quit.
In terms of volume, during 2014 South Korea bought 823 tons of cigarettes from abroad, a decrease of 15.4% from 973 the tons that it was in 2013. Asia was the main supplier and particularly Singapore, with tobacco products imported from this country making up 33.2% of the total, while German cigarettes accounted for 21% of all imports. Lithuania, Switzerland and Malaysia complete the top five list of cigarette suppliers for South Korea.
On the other hand, the imports of e-cigarettes recorded a remarkable 342% increase when compared to the amount of 2013, also recording a gain of more than 348% in terms of volume compared to the 2013 figure. A similar noteworthy increase was recorded for liquid solutions used in the electronic cigarette devices. The main suppliers of electronic cigarette products were China, which account for 72.2% of imports and the USA with 26.3%.
Seeing that the South Korean society is moving towards an anti-smoking culture, which somehow leads smokers to either cut back, quit or seek alternatives, thus the increasing trend in favour of e-cigarettes, the traditional tobacco manufacturers are trying to fight back. For example, Philip Morris, which is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, and the owner of the Marlboro and Parliament brands that make up 75% of all sales in South Korea, announced that it will cut the prices on these two products to 4,500 won per pack, from 4,700 won. Through this move, Philip Morris is in fact eliminating the price gap between locally made and foreign brands that had been maintained since 2011.