Lawmakers block cigarette price hike

The government has decided not to discuss a hike in cigarette prices this year due to opposition from lawmakers.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is not seeking to raise cigarette prices or revise the related law, an official said Tuesday.

“We have to revise the law to increase cigarette prices. However, the mood at the National Assembly is negative about the price increase. Further discussions would not be made within the year,” the official said.

The current cigarette price of 2,500 won ($2.25) per pack consists of a health-promotion fund (354 won), cigarette tax (641 won), local education tax (320.5 won), disposal fee (7 won), value-added tax (227.27 won) and a marketing margin (950.23 won).

Since she took office in August, Health Minister Chin Soo-hee has hinted at a possible raise in cigarette prices as part of anti-smoking efforts.

However, the parliamentary health and welfare committee has maintained its opposition to the price hike regardless of party affiliation.

Rep. Shin Sang-jin of the ruling Grand National Party, who is the party’s chief negotiator at the health committee, made it clear during the recent audit that non-price policies should be considered first in the fight against smoking.

Rep. Joo Seung-yong, the chief negotiator of the main opposition Democratic Party, also spoke against the idea.

“Low-income households would be hit harder as their smoking rate is much higher than that of high-income earners,” Joo said. “Policies such as installing warning signs and designating non-smoking areas have just started. We can consider a price raise after watching the effect of current measures.”

The government, which maintains cheaper cigarette prices despite the high smoking rate, has been criticized for not making aggressive efforts.

“Anti-smoking policy could be effective when a price increase is carried out along with other non-price policies. Some studies have already found that the effect of non-price policies takes a longer period and are less effective,” said Kim Eun-ji, director general of the Korean Association of Smoking and Health.

“Lawmakers tend to pay more attention to the voice of smokers. They need to know that people’s health is more important than the economy,” she said.


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