Tax increases ruled out

    Of the five major candidates in the May 9 presidential elections in South Korea, four have vowed to freeze cigarette prices and one has pledged to cut them, according to an opinion piece by Park Moo-jong in the Korea Times.

    Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative front-runner, reportedly ignited an online dispute over whether to raise or lower cigarette prices when he said that, if elected, he would cut prices from 4,500 won (about US$4) to 2,500 won a pack.

    In effect, he would return prices to their 2014 level. On January 1, 2015, the government imposed a tax increase that took the price of cigarettes from 2,500 won to 4,500 won.

    “Cigarettes are a thing that low-income people smoke mainly out of anger or because they cannot quit,” Hong was reported to have said. “It is not right to take advantage of this and to empty their pockets, thus fattening the national wallet.”

    The other four major contenders, including Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, are said to have vowed to freeze prices.

    All five candidates have promised in principle that they will use cigarette tax revenue for the promotion of health.