A study said Koreans are spending increasingly less money on cigarettes while not doing so on alcoholic drinks. The annual healthcare expenditure related to drinking has surpassed 2 trillion won. According to the National Statistical Office and the Ministry of Health and Welfare on January 5, the monthly spending on tobacco products by households with more than two members was 17,317 won as of the third quarter of 2014, down from 21,079 won in 2007. The share of tobacco spending in total consumption has also declined to 0.66 percent from 1.05 percent during the same period.
In contrast, however, spending on liquors has been on a steadily rising trend for the past eight years. The average monthly spending on liquors last year was 14,160 won, almost double that in 2007 at 7,335 won. The share in total has also increased to 0.50 percent from 0.36 percent. Medical cost related to drinking has bloated to 2,433.6 billion won in 2011 from 1,705.7 billion won in 2007.
Health experts said this is largely due to the government's more lax policy stance toward drinking than to smoking. According to a 2014 study by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the Korean government's policy score in suppressing drinking was 7 points (out of 21), ranking 22nd in all 30 countries under analysis. It was also much lower than the average score of 9.7 points. A health ministry official commented on the state of affairs, "Even though we are aware of the seriousness of the problem, we can't do anything for fear of triggering drinkers' backlash."
It is estimated the social cost of drinking is much higher than that for smoking. According to a study by the Graduate School of Public Health at Yonsei University, the total social cost of drinking that includes lowered productivity and accidents following drinking as well as the direct health cost was estimated at 20,099 billion won.
Others, however, argue against raising liquor prices as it would increase the burden to general consumers. In 2011, the special committee on future health and medical services within the health ministry recommended a hike in liquor prices and using the receipt to treat alcohol addiction and promotion of drinking moderation. But the proposal was unable to materialize as detractors said it may add burdens to low-income drinkers and restrict the growth of the alcoholic beverage industry.