Tobacco Imports to South Korea Rising Due to Heat-Not-Burn Cigarettes
Cigarette imports to South Korea have been increasing over the last two years, new government data shows. Ever since 2014, and despite new taxes levied against the sale of cigarettes to discourage the habit, South Korea has seen significant increases in the volume and value of tobacco products entering the country.
In the first half of 2017 alone, over $200 million worth of cigarettes were brought into South Korea. This figure represents a 61% increase in value over the entirety of the previous year’s import total, $124 million, which was higher than that last year’s total as well.
The Korea Customs Service, which oversees all imports into the country, noted that 2017 was already on track to beat the previous highest-ever cigarette import total in 2011, which totaled out at only $38 million.
A New Player
Korean customs officials cite the ever-growing popularity of the IQOS device, which was launched in South Korea in June 2017, as the cause of all these increases in tobacco imports. The data does seem to prove their assumptions.
The IQOS device, created and marketed by Philip Morris International, is an electronic device that offers users a smokeless experience through heat-not-burn technology that heats tobacco inserts, known as HEETS, to deliver a feeling similar to that of smoking a traditional cigarette.
These HEETS are what ultimately tipped the scales to make 2017 the year South Korea spent the most on importing tobacco into the country. HEETS, imported from Italy, took a $30 million chunk out of the domestic tobacco market, which was still less than the total value of cigarette imports from countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.
Indonesia was the top exporter of cigarettes to South Korea with nearly $46 million worth of cigarettes making its way to Korean shores. The Philippines was a close second at $36 million.
Despite the significant rise in sales of the IQOS and the accompanying HEETS, e-cigarettes only take up about 3 percent of the South Korean tobacco market. And while some conflate the IQOS with e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, HEETS and the IQOS are tobacco-based products. E-cigarette devices rely on liquid nicotine, blended with other ingredients, to deliver doses of nicotine without any contact with tobacco whatsoever. But still, as the new figures show, South Koreans don’t seem to be to keen on giving up their tobacco products anytime soon.