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South Korea to Redefine Synthetic Nicotine: What it Means for Smokers and Vapers


In a move that could shake up the vaping world, South Korean officials announced on May 15 that they plan to amend the country’s tobacco-related laws. The goal? To designate synthetic nicotine as a type of tobacco. This legal shift is aimed at bringing this increasingly popular product category under stricter regulation, particularly among young smokers. Let’s dive into the details of this surprising twist in the world of nicotine.

The Current State of Synthetic Nicotine Regulation

South Korea’s existing tobacco laws are rooted in the National Health Promotion Act and the Tobacco Business Act. These laws define tobacco products as those that use tobacco leaves as all or part of their raw materials, and are suitable for smoking, sucking, inhaling vapor, chewing, or smelling. Given this definition, synthetic nicotine e-liquids don’t quite make the cut.

Since synthetic nicotine isn’t classified as tobacco, it escapes the usual regulatory measures. This means no health warning labels, no restrictions on sales to minors, and no tobacco-related taxes. It’s like synthetic nicotine is the sneaky teenager of the tobacco world, slipping through the legal cracks and avoiding curfews.

The push for change is driven by the increasing popularity of synthetic nicotine among young people and a market shift towards atomized e-cigarettes. In 2023, these products made up 16.9% of total tobacco sales in South Korea. This surge has caught the attention of lawmakers who are now scrambling to catch up with this trend.

The Mechanics of Legal Revision

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Economy and Finance are leading the charge to amend the Tobacco Business Act. The goal is to include synthetic nicotine in the definition of tobacco, effectively tightening the legal noose around its sale and distribution.

Imagine a legal drama where the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance are the protagonists, working together to bring about this crucial revision. Their mission: to present a united front at the opening of the 22nd National Assembly. An official from the Ministry of Health stated, “We will provide the necessary information to the Ministry of Finance. There is already a lot of evidence that synthetic nicotine is tobacco.”

The evidence they refer to includes studies and data pointing to the health risks associated with synthetic nicotine. By classifying it as tobacco, the government hopes to impose the same stringent regulations that apply to traditional tobacco products, thus safeguarding public health and curbing its allure to minors.

Industry Impact and Market Reactions

One of the major players affected by this potential law change is British American Tobacco (BAT), which has expressed interest in launching a new synthetic nicotine product in South Korea. Notably, South Korea is the only country where BAT is considering this launch, making it a critical market for their synthetic nicotine ambitions.

BAT’s announcement came just before the government’s revelation, indicating that the timing might be more than coincidental. If the law changes, BAT will face new hurdles, from additional labeling requirements to sales restrictions. This could significantly impact their market strategy and financial projections for the region.

The domestic tobacco market has been shifting towards e-cigarettes and vapes, with synthetic nicotine products gaining a substantial foothold. The proposed legal changes might slow down this trend, but they could also lead to innovation in compliant product development. The market is poised for a shake-up, with companies needing to adapt swiftly to the new regulations or risk falling behind.

The Future of Smoking and Vaping in South Korea

The proposed changes to the Tobacco Business Act signal a broader trend towards stricter regulation of nicotine products. For consumers, particularly young smokers and vapers, this means a potential shift in the products available to them and how they are marketed.

Stricter regulations could lead to a decrease in synthetic nicotine use among minors, a primary concern for health officials. With synthetic nicotine being brought under the same regulatory umbrella as traditional tobacco, public awareness of its risks may increase, leading to more informed choices by consumers.

As South Korea prepares for the opening of the 22nd National Assembly, the tobacco industry and consumers alike are watching closely. The legal landscape is set to change, and with it, the dynamics of the nicotine market. For now, it’s a waiting game, but one thing is clear: the days of synthetic nicotine flying under the radar are numbered.


South Korea is planning to amend its tobacco laws to classify synthetic nicotine as a type of tobacco, a move driven by the increasing popularity of synthetic nicotine among young people and the rise of atomized e-cigarettes, which accounted for 16.9% of tobacco sales in 2023. The Ministry of Health and Welfare, along with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, are spearheading this legal revision to include synthetic nicotine under the Tobacco Business Act, thus subjecting it to stringent regulations, including health warning labels and sales restrictions to minors. This change comes as British American Tobacco considers launching a synthetic nicotine product in South Korea, its only planned launch site globally. The proposed amendment aims to close existing legal loopholes, ensuring synthetic nicotine products are regulated like traditional tobacco, ultimately protecting public health and reducing youth access.


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