South Korea's health minister said Tuesday he hopes to nearly double cigarette prices over the next six years to reduce the country's smoking rate, which is way higher than the average of advanced nations.
Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said the price should immediately be raised to at least 3,300 won ($3.24) per pack, partly to reflect the rise in consumer prices, and eventually to 4,500 won by 2020. The last price hike for cigarettes was in 2004 when it was raised by 500 won.
The average price of cigarettes among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries is $6.40, while more than 70 percent of cigarettes sold in South Korea are 2,500 won ($2.46) or cheaper.
"I believe we must actively work to cut the country's smoking rate if we believe that the high smoking rate is becoming a serious issue," Moon said while meeting with reporters here.
The minister said South Korean males' smoking rate currently stands at 44 percent, much above the average of 25 percent for the 34 OECD member countries.
The government has a health plan that aims to lower the smoking rate to 29 percent by 2020.
"The most effective policy is to raise the tobacco tax," he said, noting that the country's overall smoking rate had dropped by about 15 percent when the government raised cigarette prices in 2004.
The country's smoking rate, however, has remained fixed since 2008 as it has not been able to increase cigarette prices since then, he said.
"Anti-smoking campaigns have produced little results as cigarette prices have been fixed at a low level," he said. (Yonhap)