No effect on smokingThe government received considerable public support for raising the price of a pack of cigarettes from 2,500 won ($2.20) to 4,500 won last year thanks to its logic that it would help enhance public health. The government also contended that with the price hike, smoking rates among adults would fall to 35 percent at the maximum. Six months after the price increase, this has been proven wrong.
Tobacco sales recovered to 92 percent of last year’s levels at six convenience store chains last month. Cigarette imports from January to May rose 15 percent. From the signs of pickup in domestic sales and imports, the tobacco price hike had little effect in curbing Koreans’ smoking habit. Meanwhile, tax revenue from the price hike increased by 880 billion won in the first five months of the year compared with the same period of a year ago. The government may achieve its target of 2.85 trillion won extra tax revenue from the price hike.
If the government really raised tobacco prices in order to discourage smoking, it should have carried out an aggressive antismoking campaign. But its efforts on this front were pitiful. The only tangible effort was the proposal to enforce graphic warning images on cigarette packages and provide subsidies for medications and treatment to help quit smoking. But the effort ended in gesture. The law that recently passed the National Assembly was revised to include warning images on labels from December on the condition that they are not “too disgusting.” Experts do not expect the measures will have any effect on discouraging smoking.
There was also a proposal to offer some financial assistance for six clinic sessions and four week’s worth of medications or supplements as well as incentives for a person who completes a 12-week program to quit smoking, but that too has not been decided. Antismoking education, medical checkups and campaign for teenagers have not been increased. No additional smoking rooms or spaces for smokers have been arranged. If there had not been any spending to curtail smoking or increase benefits for smokers, we can only assume that the price hike had primarily been purposed to raise tax revenue for the government. If the government sincerely had the public interest at heart in raising tobacco prices, it should show it through actions and effective measures. JoongAng Ilbo, July 8, Page 30