The tobacco industry in South Korea since market liberalisation : implications for strengthening tobacco control

Lee, Sungkyu; (2011) The tobacco industry in South Korea since market liberalisation : implications for strengthening tobacco control. PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

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This research analyses transnational tobacco companies' (TTCs) broader strategies for market access and demand creation through understanding market liberalisation in South Korea's tobacco industry from the late 1980s in order to inform the strengthening of tobacco control policies within the country and other emerging markets. The research is mainly based on internal tobacco industry documents, made publicly available through litigation. Detailed analysis of industry documents related to South Korea has not been undertaken to date. Semistructured interviews and additional primary and secondary sources served as important supplementary data sources. The key finding of this research is that the market access strategies of TTCs, including direct and indirect lobbying on trade policies, were a response to South Korea's export-oriented economic development model and its negative attitude towards foreign investment. This was undertaken within the context of the transformation of the world trading system from the 1980s which created pressure on the country to open its market. After liberalisation, various aggressive marketing tactics to create demand for foreign brands were used by TTCs. The competition this engendered played a key role in the transformation of the Korean tobacco monopoly into a private, competitive business which emulated and refined the tactics used by TTCs. This, in turn, increased the extent and intensity of the aggressive marketing of tobacco products in Korea overall. Total volume of cigarette sales increased 25% as a result, making Korea the 8th largest tobacco market in the world by 1992, whilst smoking prevalence increased among young adults and females. The research concludes that a fuller understanding of TTCs' strategies for global expansion can be derived by locating them within the economic development models of specific countries or regions. Such analysis, in turn, offers important lessons for strengthening global tobacco control. Of foremost importance is the need for emerging markets to appropriately balance economic and public health policies when considering liberalisation. The South Korean experience also demonstrates that comprehensive tobacco control policies, as set out by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, must be implemented prior to any market liberalisation and strictly enforced within a competitive market environment.

Item Type: Thesis
Thesis Type: Doctoral
Thesis Name: PhD
Contributors: Lee, K (Thesis advisor); Holden, C (Thesis advisor);
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