british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2009 - Youth smoking prevention in South Korea


The minimum age to purchase tobacco products in South Korea is 19. Under the Tobacco Business Act, any retailer who is discovered selling to the underage may have its licence to sell tobacco suspended for up to two months for a first violation and up to three months for a second violation. Retailers can face imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of up to KRW 20 million (£10,052) for selling to the underage under the Youth Protection Act.

Youth smoking is a major issue in South Korea. The adult smoking rate has decreased from over 70 per cent in 1980 to 43 per cent in 2008. However, over the same period, the youth smoking rate has increased slightly. According to research by the Korea Centre for Disease and Prevention, subsidised by the Ministry of Health, the main causes for this trend are low prices, peer pressure, stress and lack of enforcement.

There are also claims that tobacco companies’ youth smoking prevention (YSP) activities are simply another means of marketing to young people. For British American Tobacco this is not the case. As set out in our Business Principles, we believe we have a shared responsibility to prevent underage access to tobacco products.

British American Tobacco Korea meets this responsibility by, for example, providing YSP training to its sales force and engaging with relevant stakeholders on the issue.

In 2009, through the Korean Tobacco Association, British American Tobacco Korea and three other tobacco companies ran a campaign focusing on age verification. This included the recruitment of YSP advocates among retailers who take a lead in not selling to the underage and sign a pledge that ’I will not sell cigarettes to youth’.

This campaign is unusual because while the industry has provided guidance and support, it is the retailers who have ownership of the programme and have provided the momentum to make it a success.