Countries Where Heated Tobacco Products Are MarketedKnowledge•Action•Change (2020)
- Burning Issues: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2020
In line with many high-income countries, Japan has seen significant declines in daily adult smoking rates, although it is behind in public smoking bans, preferring instead to have designated smoking areas. Japan toughened up laws in major cities like Tokyo ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games (now postponed until 2021), although protecting bystanders from second-hand smoke has been more driven by etiquette than legislation. Japanese smokers often carry ashtrays with them in order not to inconvenience others and to reduce litter. Given this culture of manners regarding smoking, it might have been expected that the authorities would have taken a reasonably liberal approach to safer nicotine products (SNP). But as nicotine is listed as a poison, it means that vaping e-liquid is not allowed unless approved as a medicinal product, although devices and non-nicotine liquids are on sale. By contrast, rather than being the responsibility of the health ministry, heated tobacco products (HTP) are controlled by the Ministry of Finance and are widely available. HTP devices have seen a dramatic rise in popularity among young smokers – with a consequential steep fall in cigarette sales – both because of the technological novelty and because HTP play to the culture of manners.
In contrast, South Korea is a tragic example of a country which has gone backwards in relation to THR. The main domestic tobacco company KT&G was a government monopoly until privatisation, since when it has pushed on with an ambitious growth plan. But with the arrival of SNP and in particular HTP, cigarette sales in South Korea went into reverse. Since smoking was banned indoors at places like restaurants and cafés in 2015, South Korea has become less tolerant of smokers. Meanwhile vaping products have been gaining popularity in the country’s $16 billion tobacco market since 2017. By June 2019, vaping products accounted for 13 per cent of South Korea’s nicotine market by sales, while for HTP, the country is currently the world’s second largest market after Japan, worth $1.7 billion.
Unfortunately, the government has been influenced by the WHO and internal anti- THR elements – issuing warnings about SNP amid proposals to impose bans. The consequence of smokers being warned about the ‘dangers’ of vaping is that the rate of decline in cigarette sales has slowed. This can only benefit traditional cigarette companies and a government more concerned about falling tax revenue or damage to a domestic tobacco industry or both. Of course, this is a consequence of a more prohibitionist approach to SNP not limited to South Korea.
See also p. 129 of the report: Burning Issues: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2020