[FOUNTAIN]A salute to Sol

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[FOUNTAIN]A salute to Sol

Its life was short but so intense that it was said to have led one of the most dramatic lives in the world. Although it was born noble, it left the world as a “friend of the citizens.”
Sol. It was 25 years ago when Sol was first introduced to Korean smokers. From its first appearance, it dominated the market. Its competitor, Geobukseon, was no match. Sol soon subjugated the whole cigarette market and its price rose from 450 won ($0.44) to 500 won a pack. Its greatest time was in 1986 when it was the best and most expensive cigarette.
That same year, 2.47 billion packs of Sol were sold, commanding 63.2 percent of the market. From Seungli, which was introduced in 1945 and sold at 3 won per pack, to ENTZ, introduced this year at the price of 2,500 won, not a single competitor among the 112 cigarette brands sold in Korea has been able to break Sol’s 1986 record.
This was just the beginning of its legend. It soon created the “law of Sol.” The “law of Sol” is that the number one Korean cigarette brand will change every seven years. From 1982 to 1988, Sol held the number one place. Following Sol came 88 Lite, from 1989 to 1995, This, from 1996 to 2002, and Esse, from 2003 until this year. With every number one adhering to the seven year tradition, the “law of Sol” became a legend.
Sol survived for 25 years. The only cigarettes that were able to survive longer than Sol were Hwarang, at 32 years and 8 months, and Cheongja, which dominated the market for 29 years and retired in 1998.
Until two months ago, Sol kept its place as Korea’s most powerful cigarette. For 25 years, a total of 17,177,056,000 packs were sold. Until Sol lost its number one place to 88 Lite in late October of this year, no other cigarette in the 50-year cigarette history of Korea was able to put its name above Sol’s. In 1994, its price was lowered to 200 won. From that point on, its life became that of a spokesperson for the poor, leaving wealth and power behind and accepting the reality of its fall.
In 1999, Sol’s existence met its last reversal, brought about by economic cooperation between North and South Korea. Since its production facilities were moved to Pyongyang in 2002, it started to lose 2 billion won each year and thus was treated as an ugly duckling. Eventually, the factory stopped production in October last year and its lifespan was ended. On December 26, 2005, even stock supplies of Sol ran out and its demise was officially announced. Some people blame Sol, saying the health of millions was harmed by it. But how can we just blame and begrudge Sol? I write this letter of condolence to Sol to record the history of its life and bid it farewell.

by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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