Tobacco regulations in Korea
Tobacco was introduced to Korea via Japan in 1618. However the modern tobacco industry of Korea started in 1945, after its independence from Japanese rule which had lasted for 36 years from 1910. The Korean government established a “Monopoly Bureau” in the Ministry of Finance in 1948. The Monopoly Bureau controlled tobacco cultivation, cigarette manufacturing and sales of tobacco products in Korea until it was succeeded by the “Office of Monopoly” in 1955, a separate government organisation for national tobacco business. Although the Korean government maintained the tobacco monopoly system until 2002, it began tobacco regulation policy in 1976 by adopting the first health warning on cigarette packs. From that time, diverse tobacco regulation policies including sales restriction, restriction of advertisings, health warnings, labelling and restriction of smoking have been implemented in Korea. Recently the Korean government raised cigarette prices by 80% to cut down smoking prevalence and implemented LIP mandating regulation which came into force on 22 July 2015 to reduce fire accidents caused by cigarette butts. Furthermore, a new regulation introducing pictorial warnings on cigarette packs is under discussion in parliament. There have been endless controversies surrounding tobacco regulations in Korean society, especially cigarette price hikes which provoked a bitter dispute between smokers and the Korean government. Regardless of socio-economic status, most of Korean smokers still consider cigarette price hikes as a means of increasing national tax income rather than an effective no-smoking policy as the government claims. Controversy and strong opposition to current tobacco regulations in Korea indicate that social consensus and science-based regulations are critical factors for successful tobacco regulations.