Chaos in South Korea As Cigarette Bans Loom
South Korea is full of chaos this week as citizens scramble to stock up on cigarettes before they nearly double in price on January 1st. Lawmakers are taking drastic measures to try to control the major smoking epidemic and the new year will deliver major changes for smokers. Not only will cigarette prices almost double, but smoking will be completely banned in all bars and restaurants. New graphic warning labels will also be required on all cigarette packages. Those that dare to break the smoking laws will be harshly penalized with fines as high as $4,550 US.
With price hikes now days away, there has been total chaos with runs on convenience stores as people try to stock up on their favorite smokes. South Korea has already seen several incidents where violence erupted. In one incident, a convenience store limited sales to keep the cigarettes distributed evenly among loyal customers. A shopper turned violent when he was refused a bulk purchase. In another convenience center, a store manager was hit twice simply for delivering the unfortunate news that they were sol out of cigarettes.
So far, there is no indication that the new cigarette restrictions will apply to electronic cigarettes. As a result, many smokers are making a quick switch to vaping and that means a major surge in the ecig market for South Korea. In fact, the nation’s largest online shopping site shows ecig sales are up 1,614 percent from last year. The country’s smokers are stocking on electronic cigarettes, but other smoking cessation tools are selling in mass quantities. People are trying to kick the tobacco habit before the new expensive prices really start to hurt.
Smoking is a major problem in a lot of Asian countries, but South Korea has an especially high rate of tobacco use. Because the country has a mandatory two-year military service for all male citizens, many become smokers during this time. As a result, around 40 percent of Korean men smoke, while on 5 percent of women are tobacco users. Lawmakers hope the new cigarette restrictions will change that, but so far it has only created total chaos.
Do you think the new regulations will help South Korea stop the smoking epidemic or will it only lead to a surge in ecig sales in the long run?