SEOUL, April 14 (Korea Bizwire) – After a rule change from the Korean army that opened cigarette sales on military bases to foreign companies, both the domestic tobacco industry and tobacco farms are up in arms.
A total of 20 different types of cigarettes are supplied to the army PX. The armed forces welfare group evaluates the cigarettes they have in stock each year. Products that do not sell well are replaced with new ones.
Four new cigarettes were chosen this year. Two foreign products were selected – Philip Morris’s ‘Marlboro Gold Original’ (U.S.) and JTI’s ‘MEVIUS LSS Wind Blue’ (Japan). Although the two products only make up 10 percent of the total number of cigarettes sold in the army, the industry sees the change as meaningful since cigarette sales through the Korean military used to be dominated by domestic producers.
One industry official commented that the lawsuits filed by foreign tobacco companies demanding that the military sell foreign cigarettes might have influenced the forces to sell them. “If troops in Dokdo smoke Japanese cigarettes while ‘protecting’ the territory, people would not be able to accept it,” an industry insider said.
While patriotism is an important value in the military, and cigarettes are supplied in special circumstances under certain rules and conditions, the buzz created by the recent decision is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.
In 2007, when competitive bids were selected as the method of picking cigarettes sold at the PX, a survey was conducted with the participation of 1,647 citizens, with 91 percent of those who answered opposed to foreign cigarettes entering the PX.
Industry officials explain that cigarettes are part of ‘materiel’ that is supplied during times of conflict, such as war. The WTO also approves the preferential purchase of domestic products when it comes to war supplies.
“The U.S. Army, British Army, and Japanese Self-Defense Forces only carry cigarettes from their domestic brands. It is impossible for foreign tobacco companies to participate in their competitive bids at all,” they added.
Tobacco farmers are also upset with the news. If KT&G’s cigarette supply to the military declines because foreign companies do not buy any of their tobacco leaves, purchases from Korean tobacco farms will decrease.
Officials from the Korea Tobacco Association sent a statement to the armed forces welfare group opposing the selection of foreign cigarettes. They plan to hold a conference to plan out ways to voice the need for countermeasures to the government.
On the other hand, the foreign tobacco companies who made it into the Korean military are happy to provide a wider variety of cigarettes to soldiers, and promised to supply them with quality products.
Officials at Philip Morris Korea comment that since their products are manufactured in Korean factories, it is hard to see them as foreign products, and that they are actually domestic products produced by a foreign brand.
By Francine Jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)