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Gov’t regulates e-cigarettes on day of launch

May 25,2019
The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Friday a set of measures to prevent Juul e-cigarettes from falling into the hands of teenagers.

Having started domestic sales on the same day, the liquid e-cigarette has raised concerns in the United States for increasing the nicotine intake of teenagers. Since the product’s launch in 2015, the number of vaping teenagers rapidly increased in the country, reaching such a level that government officials called it an “epidemic.”

The Korean government has been considering measures to counter the issue, with officials mentioning the necessity of preventive measures even before Juul’s domestic launch. What adds to concerns is the possibility of Juul’s launch encouraging the introduction of other e-cigarettes in the local market. KT&G, for example, is known to be preparing to launch its e-cigarette on May 27.

“Teenagers’ use of the new smoking product has the potential of bringing negative health effects due to nicotine addiction and may lead to chronic smoking habits,” said Jung Young-gi, an official at the ministry’s office for health care policy.

Starting this month, the ministry will strengthen crackdowns on retailers selling cigarettes and smoking devices through June. In Korea, heat-not-burn devices are sold in convenience stores, while Juul is currently only available at GS25 and 7-Eleven. The government will also increase inspections of non-smoking areas - where Juul is also banned - over the next few months.

The ministry will also run a campaign to better inform schools and parents of the e-cigarette’s features and potential harm. In the United States, the lack of familiarity to adults is thought to be one reason why so many teenagers were able to start using the product. In appearance, its clean-cut, rectangular shape makes it look more like a USB drive or a box of pencil leads than an e-cigarette.

Monitoring for marketing activities will be enforced from next month. In Korea, marketing activities for smoking products are strictly regulated. Juul had been criticized in the past for its hip social media marketing strategy. Social media advertising was scrapped last year.

Ahead of the product’s official release in Korea, manufacturer Juul Labs promised that it will not advertise on social media.

Juul has said in its marketing that it causes less health damage than combustible cigarettes.

Critics have pointed out that vaping can eventually lead to smoking and that there aren’t enough studies to fully understand its long-term effects on the human body.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]