Expensive Smoking in 2015


The the worst habit I’ve picked up while in Korea was to start smoking, honestly. I’ve tried puffing one or two when I was in college, but only after coming to Korea did I really start doing it. First it was only a means to create a bad image for me (punk rocker perhaps?). I was like Westwood and the Sex Pistols ruining my wholesome image with my very first Marlboro Ice. It turned out bad as I smoke twice or more everyday when I’m totally fallen into a stressed induced pithole or had fights with my best friend, as she hates smoking. But now, I am an all-hailed occasional smoker. Back in the summer, I learned from a Scottish friend that I was only smoking weak cigarettes. Nevertheless, it was the same as smoking paper she said. And she was right, as we compared the nicotine levels of her Scottish brand cigarettes to my “Esse” box. The cigarettes you can buy in Scotland are 0.7% nicotine while Korean cigarettes are just 0.2% nicotine. And with that I realized that I just pushed myself far from my early death as I only smoke little nicotine than I thought. Especially, now that the Korean government has already ostracized the 80% increase on the price of all cigarette brands in Korea starting from the very first day of 2015.

A man smokes a cigarette in Seoul


Smoking in Korea:

 Once you come in Korea, You would never expect the smoking culture to be this big according to what one can read from Hallyu updates. Back then Kpop idols would lose fans solely based on the fact they smoke. But in reality, At least 60% of idols smoke. Apparently, even though smoking is a taboo in Korea, Kids can actually start smoking as early as Elementary school. I am actually basing this on stories of my 12-14 year old students who would sometimes boast how bullies would smoke in their school. Nonetheless, The men and women in my old university in Geumgang smoke everyday and they are even younger than me. According to Joongang daily, Korea’s cigarettes had its very first price increase back in 2004 but only increasing the price of cigarettes boxes to 2,500 from its original 2000 won price. And till now cigarette price have been frozen solid at this price. With this cheap price, it is obvious that anyone can make this one hell of a vice an everyday stress reliever.


And why would people wanna start smoking here in Korea? Of course the amount of stress in between work and office politics along with the stress students face with dealing with different examinations they take from high school up till they start looking for a job which in Korea can be too much at times. Koreans can’t think of any other distress reliever other than that relaxing puff of a cigarette. When you walk around outside the business districts, you would can see groups of white-collared males smoking outside their office buildings. Also in my university, it is really apparent that my Korean schoolmates smoke a lot during the examination period. The stress they receive from the fear of losing their scholarships can only be relieved by that one blow of smoke from their lit cigarettes.



How will the price increase affect smoking habits?


With reports of people panic buying their favorite cigarette brand before it becomes 4,500 won on New Years Day. Currently, people whose vice is to smoke are now stocking up boxes of cigarettes while the price remains 2,500 won. For those whose lives are controlled by smoking, it’s now a race against time, as stores are already controlling the sales of some cigarettes.


In our small area here in Dongyang, Gyeyang. My friend’s grandmother who is a heavy smoker has her relatives buying cigarette boxes every day before the price increase. With the seven convenience stores in our little sub-urban place, familiar brands such as Simple Version 3 and others are now out-of-stock. And with three days before the New Year, all convenience stores are now only allowed to sell one box per person to avoid being out of stock. People can’t buy the whole pack anymore, as the government also controls its sales. And by the time New Year comes, all cigarettes that are still priced by 2,500 won will probably be sold out. Like the honey butter chip plight, how will be the lives of chain-smokers change in South Korea? In other countries where a sin tax is fully implemented for cigarettes and alcohol, this price increase among expats is probably just another piece of news they might come by. But how might it really affect foreign smokers in Korea? I for one, just realized that my occasional smoking would have to stop completely, as I only smoke this 0.2% cigarette. And since prices back home were already higher than what it is in Korea, and nicotine levels are a bit higher, I might as well just quit after my last 0.2% Nicotine leveled cigarette all together.


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