South Korea seeks near-doubling of cigarette price

Elderly South Korean job seekers smoke during an elderly persons' job fair on 23 September 2005 in Seoul, South Korea. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption South Korea has one of the highest male smoking rates among OECD member countries

South Korea's government has proposed nearly doubling the price of cigarettes to lower the country's smoking rate.

Under its plan, the average price per pack would go up to 4,500 won (£2.70, $4.35) by the start of next year. It is currently 2,500 won.

But the proposal may undergo changes in parliament as it is facing significant opposition, reports Yonhap news agency.

The government is hoping to cut the smoking rate among men, which is among the highest in the developed world.

About 41% of South Korean men smoke, according to 2012 figures from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development - higher than the 26% OECD average.

South Korea's overall smoking rate, at 23%, is also higher than the OECD average of 21%.

The last cigarette price hike was in 2004 when it went up by 500 won, prompting the smoking rate to slide by 15%, reported Yonhap.

The news agency also said the government was planning to introduce a pricing system pegging cigarette prices to other consumer prices.

Cigarette manufacturers would be required to print picture warnings on their products and some tobacco advertising would be banned, reports said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption South Korea has been trying to reduce its smoking rate with anti-smoking campaigns for years
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The government wants to force cigarette manufacturers to print picture warnings on their products

The government hopes the price hike will generate an additional 2.8 trillion won in tax revenues.

The opposition has since called it a "deceitful move" which would end up costing low-income earners more, as their smoking rate is higher than other income groups.

The Korean Smoking Association also accused the government of scapegoating smokers to offset rising welfare costs, reported the AFP news agency.

In April South Korea's state health insurer launched a lawsuit against three tobacco firms, including the local unit of Philip Morris, to offset smoking-related treatment costs.

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