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Spending on tobacco, liquor hit record high amid pandemic

Household expenditure on alcohol and cigarettes hit a new high in the July-September period, data showed Wednesday, with the “stay-at-home” situation amid the coronavirus pandemic apparently fueling the spending.

Monthly spending on tobacco and liquor by local households of two or more people gained 10.7 percent on-year to an average 42,980 won ($38.70), in the three-month period, data compiled by Statistics Korea showed.

The figure marks the largest since the government started compiling related data in 2003. The data on household spending on liquor and tobacco does not take purchases of such items at restaurants into account.

Spending has been growing around 10 percent since the second-quarter when the COVID-19 pandemic started to take a toll on the economy. The figure fell 4.2 percent on-year in the first quarter but quickly gained 9.5 percent in the following three-month period.

The growth rate in the July-September period marked the highest since the 22.2 percent reading in the January-March of 2016 when the government decision to raise tobacco prices went into effect.

Separately, household spending on liquor and tobacco each also hit a record high in the cited period with the figure standing at an average 19,651 won and 23,329 won, respectively.

“Following the outbreak of the COVID-19, more people were forced to stay at home, which may have led to an increase in liquor and tobacco expenditure,” a Statistics Korea official said.

“But it could also be due to a shift in the method of sampling we have been using for the data in 2016 and 2019,” the official added. Statistics Korea had compiled the data on a yardstick that combined household spending and earnings as of 2016, separated the two in 2017, but combined it again 2019.

On the increase in tobacco spending, onlookers have said that the current travel restrictions due to the pandemic has worked as hurdles for duty-free purchases of tobacco, which led to more purchases of the item from local stores.

By Jung Min-kyung (