Japan is moving to remove Korea from the white list of importers of its hi-tech materials used as crucial components in semiconductors and display panels of local conglomerates, prompting a consumer boycott of Japanese products.
The hashtag #boycottJapan has spread fast on social media platforms, urging a boycott of everything related to Japan ranging from canceling trips to Japan to consumer products and has raised concerns for well-known Japanese companies and products operating in Korea, such as Toyota, Uniqlo, and Asahi.
With the situation continuing to escalate, the Korean branches of Japanese pharmaceutical companies are observing the situation in case of a possible boycott on their products.
Japanese pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed robust growth in Korea. According to the Korea Pharmaceutical Traders Association, the total amount of medicines, including cosmetics, imported from Japan last year totaled $927.96 million, the second-largest amount after the U.S. with $1.3 billion.
For example, donepezil, used in the treatment of dementia and developed by Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, occupies more than 90 percent of the domestic dementia treatment market.
As of now, it seems unlikely that the boycott will affect most Japanese pharmaceutical companies that focus on ethical drugs – drugs that are available only with written instructions from a doctor or a dentist to a pharmacist -- physicians and industry executives here say.
"In the case of ethical drugs, there are many things to consider such as the absence of alternative treatments and whether the treatment is covered by insurance coverage," a doctor told Korea Biomedical Review on Friday, asking to remain anonymous. "Therefore, it is almost impossible not to use drugs manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical companies."
Also, specialists such as doctors and pharmacists are the primary consumers of such treatment, making it difficult for the general public to boycott such products, he said.
A Japanese pharmaceutical company official also said, "We believe we will not be affected by the boycott as almost all of our products are ethical drugs. As we do not know what direction the situation is heading, however, we are closely watching the situation."
Industry officials say that over the counter (OTC) drugs, such as multivitamins and gastrointestinal drugs, may be affected by the boycott.
Already some of the local pharmacists have posted on social media that they have removed such OTC drugs from their stores.
"I have removed Cabagin α, a gastrointestinal medicine manufactured by Kowa Company, and Actinum, a multivitamin manufactured by Takeda Pharmaceutical, from the shelf," a local pharmacist wrote on an online post.
Some pharmacists have also started posting videos on YouTube regarding OTC drugs manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical companies and recommending that customers replace them with similar products made by Korean companies.
The video gave substitute drugs for Takeda's popular OTC drugs, including Whituben Q and nasal spray, Albothyl and Actinum, and Kowa Company's Cabagin α.
"Although it is unclear, there is a possibility that the sales of OTC drugs that have become targets of the boycotts will decline," an industry executive said. "If the boycott continues to expand, the range of boycotted products can be extended from the current cold medicines and gastrointestinal drugs to other popular products, such as artificial tears, which Japanese pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed strong sales in Korea."