Electronic cigarettes, marketing tools to target young people in South Korea

Electronic cigarettes, marketing tools to target young people in South Korea



Escaping the legislation on tobacco products, the material used for electronic cigarettes is now used as a marketing medium by manufacturers. In a letter to the journal Tobacco Prevention & Cessation, two members of Korea’s National Tobacco Control Center point out how vaping companies are using e-cigarette material as marketing material in South Korea[1].

In South Korea, restrictions on the marketing and advertising of tobacco products include other nicotine and heated tobacco products, but do not apply to e-cigarettes themselves; the manufacturers of the latter are therefore updating strategies formerly used by tobacco manufacturers.

A standardization strategy for electronic cigarettes

Two methods of marketing are highlighted in this post. The first concerns the use of luxury brands (Lamborghini, Louis Vuitton) by stickers intended to be affixed to electronic cigarettes in order to personalize them, according to the principle of “customization”. Cases and key rings are also available with these brands. The association produced between these prestigious brands and electronic cigarettes thus makes it possible to enhance the latter in the minds of consumers and to promote identification with the products. A similar process already using the Lamborghini brand on cigarette packs had been used in the past by KT&G, the leading tobacco company in South Korea. This same tobacco company had also entered into a partnership with the clothing brand Plac Jean, popular with young audiences, with a view to associating the world of fashion with that of cigarettes.

The other method used consists in producing electronic cigarettes resembling everyday objects: watch, car key, computer mouse, video game controller, etc. The objective would then be to assimilate the electronic cigarette to a kind of toy, in order to integrate it into daily life and promote its use. This standardization strategy here seems very close to the efforts made in the middle of the 20th century by the tobacco industry, when it encouraged the all-out distribution of lighters and ashtrays and the integration of these objects in many life situations. commonplace (ashtrays in automobiles, armrests in airplanes and cinema seats, lighters in the most diverse forms)[2].

Marketing methods that evoke those of the tobacco industry

These processes are a reminder that the use of cigarette packets as marketing media has long been an essential activity of the tobacco industry, and that it is still at work in many countries, including the United States. In order to counter this trend, the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) has, since 2004, encouraged the affixing of photos and health warnings on cigarette packs, now present in 90% of signatory countries. The introduction of the plain package, currently in place in 17 countries, aims in particular to neutralize the marketing carried by cigarette packages. In Europe, the extension of this measure to e-liquids and heated tobacco products represents one of the next challenges to be met.

Tobacco manufacturers are also trying to distinguish electronic devices from products containing tobacco or nicotine. In France, in a lawsuit between the National Committee against Smoking (CNCT) and Philip Morris France (PMF), the latter claimed that the IQOS device could not be considered a tobacco product, since only its HEETS products (sticks of tobacco that could be used by IQOS, but of a different brand) contained tobacco. On December 3, 2021, the 31st Correctional Chamber of the Paris Judicial Court ruled in favor of the CNCT by considering that the IQOS device had no other function than to consume tobacco, thus denying any possibility of advertising to the IQOS[3]while PMF felt that it could also serve as a fashion accessory.

Keywords: South Korea, electronic cigarette, marketing, advertising, IQOS

©Tobacco Free Generation


[1] Chu S, Kong J, Electronic cigarette devices targeting youth in KoreaTobacco Prevention & Cessation, 2022;8(August):30.

[2] ProctorR, Golden Holocaust, The Tobacco Industry Conspiracy, Paris, Ed. Equateurs, 2014, p. 162-167.

[3] The CNCT condemns Philip Morris for illicit advertising of its IQOS deviceCNCT, published December 3, 2021, accessed August 9, 2021.

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