SEOUL-- South Korea saw shipments of electronic cigarettes soar this year on their growing popularity among smokers amid a tumble in sales of conventional tobacco, government data showed Sunday.

According to the data from the finance ministry, shipments of electronic cigarettes, including Phillip Morris' IQOS and British American Tobacco's Glo, came to 20.7 million packs in October, compared with 9.6 million packs in July and a mere 100,000 packs in April.

In the first 10 months of this year, their cumulative shipments amounted to 71.9 million packs, according to the data. Both Phillip Morris and BAT declined to unveil their exact sales figures. Shipments differ from sales, but they can serve as a yardstick of how many products are sold to final consumers.

In contrast, sales of conventional cigarettes came to 2.91 billion packs during the 10-month period, down from 3.06 billion packs a year earlier.

Due to the plunge in sales of conventional products, overall shipments of cigarettes were estimated to have fallen in the 10-month period from a year ago.

Meanwhile, KT and G Corp., South Korea's top cigarette maker, rolled out its new tobacco-heating device on Nov. 7, fueling more competition in the local heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco market. The new product, dubbed lil, heats up tobacco leaves without generating smoke using battery power and is slated to hit the shelves Monday.

A government official predicted sales of electronic cigarettes to rise temporarily due to the three companies' stepped-up marketing, but he said overall sales may fall down the road due to increased taxes on HNB products.

South Korea's parliament passed a bill on Nov. 9 to hike the individual consumption tax rate for electronic cigarettes to 90 percent of the tax levied on ordinary products.

Source: Yonhap News Agency