SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Korea Bizwire) – KT&G, the leading tobacco company in Korea, has just released a press release boasting of its 2016 overseas cigarette sales, quickly drawing criticism given the fact that a large portion of the earnings were from less developed countries.
According to company data, KT&G saw overseas sales increase by 4.7 percent last year to 48.7 billion cigarettes, setting a record for the second consecutive year. Total overseas revenue came in at $812 million, KT&G said.
The biggest contributions were from not only existing markets like the Middle East and Russia, but also emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and Central and Latin America, where KT&G has managed to expand its distribution channels in recent years.
A firestorm of condemnation followed hot on the heels of the press release, with critics denouncing the company for boasting about sales of cigarettes, often referred to as death sticks, in less developed countries with lax tobacco regulations.
“Many people living in Southeast Asia and Africa still lack awareness about the harmful effects of smoking,” said a 47-year-old office worker from Seoul, referred to only as Kim. “Is selling harmful products in countries like this really something to brag about?”
Of course, there are those who praise KT&G’s achievements overseas, noting the firm has successfully discovered new markets, and reinvested financial profits in the South Korean economy.
“KT&G is one of the successful examples of state-owned enterprises turned private,” said an industry official. “It remains almost untouched from government influence, and by improving its performance globally, it’s helping the country both in terms of employment and the economy.”
KT&G first began exporting cigarettes in 1988, and opened its first overseas factory in 2008 in Turkey. In 2011, it acquired an Indonesian tobacco company to speed up the expansion of its global operations.
The most lucrative of its products is Esse, a super-slim cigarette that accounts for over half of the company’s overseas revenue.
“After 30 years of actively pioneering foreign markets, we have become a global tobacco company exporting to roughly 50 countries,” said a KT&G official. “We’ll continue to make aggressive investments and develop new products to keep our overseas momentum afloat.”
By Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)