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Korean e-cig use soars, despite planned crackdown

Use of electronic cigarettes ballooned in Korea in 2014, after an 80% tax hike on tobacco products was imposed. Sales growth for e-cigs grew steadily but incrementally through the first 8 months, took a slight dip in September, when the tax was announced, then doubled in October, and by the end of the year two months later, had doubled the October figure again.

Televised home shopping networks have been instrumental. Lotte Home Shopping released the “Last Stick” in November, and due to an enthusiastic customer response, “decided to sell them more regularly.” reported an 18-fold increase for the year.

Ruyantech, a Korean concern mimicking the name of the Chinese company that first brought out Hon Lik's e-cig, Ruyan (“like smoking”), brought out its new VEIL Maxi-S, and it sold out in 3 days.

CJ O Shopping introduced its Doctor Stick 1000 last month, the first time it has aired an e-cig spot for 3 years. Three thousand units were sold in the first hour of airing.

Convenience store chains Ministop and Homeplus 365 have begun offering disposable e-cigarettes.

One new e-cig user summarized the cost benefits. “I usually smoke one pack of cigarettes a day, which used to cost me around 75,000 won a month,” he says. (10,000 won = $9) “Now that the prices of cigarettes have almost doubled, it will cost me around 150,000 won per month,” he went on. “However, with the e-cigarette, I only spend around 30,000 won for the nicotine liquid, which lasts a month.”

He adds that he feels healthier, especially when he gets up in the morning, and his colleagues and family have noticed the absence of cigarette smoking odors in his car and living space.

The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare takes a dim view of such sentiments. The government health watchdog claims that e-cigarettes contain more carcinogenic substances than cigarettes (without naming the source of this highly dubious allegation), and as is typical of anti-vaping “health reports”, they completely ignore the issue of concentration levels of toxicants allegedly present (other than nicotine).

The health organization's report claims that e-liquid contains twice the amount of nicotine found in cigarettes, but reports the amount in cubic meters rather than a liquid measure, and does not comment on the conversion rate between the density in liquid and the density in the dry leaf of tobacco, or its smoke. Furthermore, when the report alleges a “lethal dose” of nicotine, it says nothing about method of ingestion. The figures are opaque, to say the least. The dose is given in milligrams, but milligrams of what? Vapor? Liquid? Leaf? Smoke?

Nonetheless, the government intends to clamp down. “Various similar carcinogenic substances contained in tobacco cigarettes were detected in e-cigarette vapor, so smokers must not consider them as a smoking-cessation device,” says a spokesperson. Levels of concentration, of course, are not mentioned.

The ministry plans to fine television stations “up to 10 million won for ads that claim e-cigs are not harmful or are an effective tool to quit smoking.”

The publication Joongang Daily notes that outdated studies are quoted in support of these figures, and that newer studies showing minimal dangers, and cessation success, have been ignored. But the draconian penalties are still planned.

Joongang adds: “It is questionable whether the government will be able to enforce the regulations.”