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Korean-made heated tobacco product, ‘lil
  1. Jihye Lee1,
  2. Sungkyu Lee2
  1. 1 Macoll Consulting Group, Seoul, The Republic of Korea
  2. 2 National Tobacco Control Centre, Korean Health Promotion Institute, Seoul, The Republic of Korea
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sungkyu Lee, National Tobacco Control Centre, Korean Health Promotion Institute, Seoul 04554, The Republic of Korea; wwwvince77{at}gmail.com

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After the introduction of heated tobacco products (HTPs) by multinational tobacco companies, Korea’s largest tobacco company, KT&G, also introduced its HTP, ‘lil (a little is a lot)’, in November 2017. A total of three HTPs, IQOS, Glo and lil, are now available in Korea. Sales of HTPs increased from 6.1% of the tobacco market in December 2017 to 9.1% in January 2018 of the whole tobacco market.1

New competitor, KT&G’s ‘lil’ and tax on HTP sticks

lil has a non-removable integrated battery and a heating blade similar to IQOS (figure 1). While IQOS requires a 4 min charge after using every HEETS stick, lil can be used for up to 20 consecutive Fiit sticks when fully charged. The suggested retail price for lil is 95 000 Korean won (US$95). lil can be purchased at a discounted price of 68 000 won (US$68) with a promotion code from lil’s webpage (https://its-lil.com/). After its initial release in 20 November 2017, lil was first sold only in GS25 convenience stores in Seoul, and then expanded to 7700 convenience stores across Korea including CU, Seven Eleven, Ministop and so on.2

Figure 1

(A) IQOS with HEETS stick and lil with Fiit stick. (B) Fiit stick and HEETS stick. (C) There is a graphic health warning message on the Fiit package. The label warns “addiction” with a picture of a syringe and says “Electronic cigarettes cause nicotine addiction.” The label also provides the number of the national quit line service, 1544-9030. Photo taken by JL.

At the time of release, all HTP sticks—Fiit (lil), HEETS (IQOS) and NeoStik (Glo)—were sold at a lower price (4300 won=US$4.3) than conventional cigarettes (4500 won=US$4.5) because of much lower tax. While the price of conventional cigarettes was 65% tax, the tax on HTP sticks was only 32%. However, due to the rapid market growth in a short period of time, the government increased the tax on HTP sticks in November 2017 (table 1). The prices for Fiit and HEETS rose to 4500 won (US$4.5), the same price as conventional cigarettes. Although the tax increased from approximately 1350 won (US$1.3 USD) to 2600 won (US$2.6), the tobacco companies did not increase the prices of the HTP sticks as much as the increased tax. When the government considered increasing the tax on HTP sticks, Philip Morris International (PMI) claimed that the price of HEETS must be raised to 6000 won (US$6).3 In addition, the company insisted that the higher price due to the tax increase would limit consumer choice and go against promoting public health.4 However, after the tax increase, the prices of HTP sticks only went up by 200 won (US$0.2).

Table 1

Comparison of tax on conventional cigarettes and heated tobacco products

Fiit: the first HTP with flavour capsule and compatible with IQOS

KT&G was the first to introduce flavoured capsules to HTP sticks. Fiit sticks currently available are mint-flavoured ‘Fiit Change’ and applemint-flavoured ‘Fiit Change up’.5 Biting the filter while smoking releases the flavour from the capsule. KT&G incorporated this technology from conventional cigarettes to Fiit. The other advantage of Fiit is that it is compatible with IQOS, so IQOS users can use Fiit instead of HEETS. With this technology, KT&G can sell Fiit to the existing market, IQOS users. In addition, KT&G can also sell their HTP device, lil, which can be used for up to 20 consecutive sticks when fully charged, to the IQOS users, who are experiencing inconvenience charging the device after using every single stick.

Harm reduction claims

KT&G did not release a separate hazard test before or after the release of lil and Fiit. This is in contrast to how PMI and British American Tobacco (BAT) promoted IQOS and Glo as ‘harm reduction’ products, using their own study results at the time of release. Based on their own research, PMI claimed IQOS reduced harm by more than 90%6 and BAT claimed Glo reduced harm by 97%.7 During the press conference of lil’s release, KT&G announced without citing any data that an in-house study showed that lil was less harmful than conventional cigarettes and stated that a clinical study was in progress.8 KT&G may be using its last-mover situation as an advantage to capitalise on the narrative of reduced harm created by the IQOS and Glo launches. There is a need to monitor the tobacco company’s strategies for ‘late starter’ HTP in other countries.

References

Footnotes

  • Contributors JL and SL collected the data. JL prepared the first draft of the manuscript. SL reviewed all of the drafts and helped prepare the final manuscript.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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