There are lots of smokers in Japan. Around 350 billion cigarettes are consumed every year. Per capita cigarette consumption is 2770 cigarette per year, compared to 2,350 in the United States, 1,791 in China and 2,058 in France. But smoking is in decline. The smoking rate in Japan hit an all-time low of 19.5 percent in 2010, down 3.9 percent from the preceding year according to Japan’s health ministry.

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Japan has long been a smokers’ stronghold. Cheap cigarettes sold by a government-controlled tobacco company and lax antismoking laws — smokers have almost total freedom to light up at bars, restaurants and even schools and government offices — have long encouraged the habit.” Even so, domestic cigarette sales have continued to decline since peaking in fiscal 1996 at 348.3 billion cigarettes. The figure fell to 197.5 billion in fiscal 2011-2012. As consumers shy away from cigarettes, tobacco makers have found it difficult to raise prices while maintaining profits.

The smoking age in Japan is 20. Cigarettes used to cost about $3.20 a pack, among the lowest price in the industrialized world. Now a pack costs are $4.70. Cigarette taxes are also among the lowest. Current revenues from tobacco in Japan are around ¥2.3 trillion.

Good Websites and Sources: JT Smokers Style ; English Translations of the JT Smokers Style Graphics ; Survey on Smoking ; Tobacco and Salt Museum ; Reuters Blog Report on Japanese Smokers


Japanese Smokers

The smoking rate for men was 36.6 percent in 2010, 2.3 percentage points lower than a year earlier — though far above the 24 percent smoking rate among men in the United States. For male and female smokers they rate was 23.9 percent, one percent lower than the previous year, and 15th consecutive year in which a decline was chalked up. More men smoke in Japan than any other developed nation but their numbers are shrinking. In 2005, the number of men who smoke fell below 40 percent for the first time. The same year 11.3 percent women said they smoked.

In 2008, the number of male smokers dropped to 36.8 percent. In 2009, the number of smokers dropped below 25 percent for the first time to 24.9 percent.In 2003, 30.3 percent of the adult population smoked including 48.3 percent of adult males and 13.6 percent of adult females. The average male smoker smoked 24.2 cigarettes a day while the average female smoker consumers 17.3 cigarettes. Smoking was at its peak in 1966 when 49.4 percent of the population smoked. The decline since then has been attributed to older people who have quit for health reasons.

In 2002, about 49 percent of Japanese men said they smoked, down from 58.8 percent in 1995 and 83.7 percent in 1966. The number of women who smoked peaked at 18 percent in 1996. About 28 percent of nonsmoking men between the ages of 40 to 69 regard themselves as former smokers.

Smoking is increasing among young women. The highest rate of female smokers, 21.5 percent, is among women in their 20s. In the 1980s only around 10 percent of women that age smoked. Smoking was considered unladylike now it is also viewed as chic.

Smoking rates vary from region to region. In Osaka, 42.6 percent of men (4th highest in Japan) and 11.1 percent of women (2nd highest in Japan) smoke. In Tokyo, 31.1 percent of men and 9.6 percent of women smoke. In one survey 61 percent of smokers admitted they were nicotine addicts.

Young Smokers in Japan

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A study released in September 2005, reported that significantly few middle school and high school students were smoking compared to a survey taken in 2000. The number of high school seniors who said they smoked one cigarette or more a month was 22 percent in 2005, down from 37 percent in 2000.

A survey in the late 1990s found that more young people were smoking and they were smoking at a younger age. It reported that 20 percent of high school and junior high school students had smoked in the past year. The survey reported younger men and women were more likely to have smoked than in years past. Another survey indicated the number of 18-year-old males who smoke increased from 21 percent in 1991 to 37 percent in 1996. Surveys have also shown that cigarette smoking among children under 16 has increased fivefold between 1975 and 1995.

Smoking is against the law for people under 20, but it is easy to skirt this law. Cigarettes are easy for young people to get at convenience stores. The used to be even easier to get form vending machines (See Below). Youth Smoking Prohibition Law, which penalizes sellers, is rarely enforced.

In a survey by Tokyo Hosei University, 60 percent of college students said they wouldn’t marry a smoker.

Smoking and Japanese Life

Smoking was introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese sailors. In the old days itinerant monks on pilgrimages carried tobacco seeds to pay for food and lodging. Today, it is considered a social activity; many Japanese say they smoke primarily when they hang out with their friends.

With the expectation of subways, buses and theaters, people smoke everywhere in Japan. They light up in restaurants and taxis and sometimes even train platforms despite signs that tell them they are not supposed to. Cigarette vending machines are located on almost very corner; non-smoking areas in restaurants are still novelties.

Smoking s regarded as a personal matter rather than a health concern. Many doctors, nurses and medical professional smoke. Parents buy duty-free cigarettes for the children on overseas trips. cigarette companies give out free samples of cigarettes on the streets and have even donated 15 million cigarettes to old folk's homes on Respect the Aged Day. Some women place a pack of cigarettes in the coffin of husbands who doe of smoking-related diseases.

Japanese travel agencies sponsor tours for smokers in which travelers fly on airlines that allow smokers (Malaysia Airlines and Alitalia) and stay in hotels and eat restaurants that have liberal smoking policies.


Tobacco Marketing in Japan

Peace and Hope are popular Japanese brands. Billboards and magazine advertising features beautiful models and mountain bikers climbing up snow packed peaks. Cigarettes are regularly given out free to customers at bars and nightclubs. Much of the advertising is geared towards women and young people.

Cigarette advertising is permitted between 10:54pm and 5:00am, Monday through Friday, on television but the tobacco industry voluntarily "restricts" cigarette ads. In 1998, Japanese tobacco companies agreed to take cigarette ads off television, radio, movies and the Internet and stop giving out free cigarettes on the streets but they planned to compensate by running more ads in magazines and newspapers.

In May 2010, JT began marketing smokeless cigarettes that use tobacco cartridges. The product, called Zero Style Mint, costs ¥300. A package of four refill cartridges sells for ¥400.

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Cigarette Vending Machines in Japan

There are 520,000 cigarette vending machines in Japan. In accordance with government regulations, the machines automatically stop dispensing cigarettes between 11:00pm and 5:00am. The aim of these regulations is unclear. People can buy cigarettes at convenience stores sell cigarettes 24 hours a day.

Beginning in July 2008, all people who wished to buy cigarettes from a vending machine needed a “taspo” age-verification card. Introduced to help prevent underage smoking, the cards could obtained by sending a pictures and a copy of document showing age, such as a driver’s license, to the Tobacco Institute of Japan. Many smokers have not taken the trouble to register for the new cards and instead buy their cigarettes at convenience stores, which as been great for business at the convenience stores.

According to a study, before the new card system was installed on vending machines, 74 percent of male high school seniors who smoke get their cigarettes from vending machines; 40 percent said they bought them at convenience stores. A study by the Japanese health ministry after the taspo system was launched found that 30 percent of middle and high school smokers bought cigarettes using Taspo cards. Of these 40 percent obtained the cards from home or family members.

Fujitake Co. makes vending machines that can recognize minors using a camera and a facial recognition system based on bone structure, wrinkles and the way the skin sags, People wishing to buy cigarettes have to look at the facial recognition camera and push a button. In about three seconds the machine determines whether the person is 20 years old or older or not. If the machine can not make a clear determination the use is required to insert his drivers license and have his birthday scanned.

Japan Tobacco

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Taspo age validation
cigarette vending system
Japan Tobacco (JT) is the world third largest tobacco maker. It held a 10.9 percent share of the world market in terms of number of cigarettes sold in the mid 2000s. The leaders are Philip Morris with 17.9 percent share and British American Tobacco with 12.1 percent share.

JT has a 64.9 share of the Japanese cigarette market It had a net income of ¥239 billion in fiscal 2007. Its main brand is Mild Seven. In the 1990s JT's Mild Seven was the second best selling cigarette brand in the world after Marlboro.

Japan Tobacco is 67 percent government owned and was a government monopoly until it was privatized in 1985. Many JT executives are former government bureaucrats. Much of the tax money that government earns from cigarettes comes from JT cigarettes.

JT has been losing market share to foreign competitors. It has laid off workers and tried to make up for losses by expanding abroad. In recent years Jt has been involved in a number of takeovers. In 1999 it purchased the overseas business of RJR Nabisco, which makes Winstons and Camels, for ¥940 billion. It has also tried to buy Tekel, Turkey’s state-owned cigarette maker,

In 2007, JT bought the British cigarette make Gallagher Group for ¥2.25 trillion. It was the largest ever acquisition by a Japanese company. The move was made with the intension of expanding into Russia and eastern Europe. Gallagher produces Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges and other brands and has a 3.1 percent share of the world market. The merge would give JT 10.9 share of the world market.

JT established the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Tokyo and operates an Ashtray “museum” at its company headquarters to teacher smokers manners.

Many JT cigarettes sell well overseas, especially in Asia. In 2005, the number of cigarettes sold by JT outside of Japan exceeded those sold in Japan for the first time.

Foreign Tobacco Companies in Japan

17th century Japanese pipes
Imports account for 35 percent of domestic cigarette consumption with 97 percent o the products coming from U.S. companies. The largest foreign cigarette makers in Japan are Altira Group, owner of the world’s largest cigarette maker Philip Morris, and British American Tobacco. Tobacco companies are among the most successful foreign enterprises in Japan. Unlike products such as beef and rice there are no tariffs on cigarette.

Japan opened it markets to foreign cigarette manufacturers in 1984. Between 1986 and 1996, foreign brands expanded from 2 percent of the market to 22 percent. Foreign cigarettes rack up $7 billions in annual sales.

To make up for loses at home, American cigarette manufacturers have moved aggressively into markets overseas. They are particularly keen on the markets in Russia, East Europe and Asia, where there are lots of smokers and American brands are prized. In the mid-1980s, U.S. tobacco companies used the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to move into Asia. Backed up by the U.S. politicians and trade representatives, they insisted not only that they be given the right to sell cigarettes but also be allowed to heavily promote their brands with free giveaways, sponsorship of concerts and sporting events, and advertising directed at women and children.

In 1986, Senator Jesse Helms wrote a letter to Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone addressing the point that American cigarettes accounted for only 2 percent of the Japanese market: "Your friends in Congress will have a better chance to stem the tide of anti-Japanese trade sentiment if and when you can cite tangible examples of your doors being opened to American products. I urge that you make a commitments to establish a timetable for allowing U.S. cigarettes a specific share of your market. May I suggests a goal of 20 percent within the next 18 months.”

Philip Morris wooed potential women smokers with Virginia Slims and RJR did the same with potential teenage smokers with Joe Camel. JT answered back a slim cigarette for women called Misty and one for young smokes called Dean (named after James Dean). After the influx of American brands, cigarettes jumped from the 40th to the 2nd most advertised product on television in Japan.

Smoking and Health in Japan

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About 130,000 people a year die of tobacco-related illnesses in Japan, according to the World Health Organization. This amounts to about one in 10 deaths. In Japan, male smokers are 4.4 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers and female smokers are 2.8 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers. More than 50,000 people died of lung cancer in Japan. Each year 80,000 men and 10,000 women get smoking-induced cancer. This is 20 percent of all cancer cases in Japan.

Smoking accounts for the highest levels of premature deaths in Japan, triple the number of suicides and ten times the number of traffic fatalities. One study found that Japanese men who smoke are likely to live 3½ years less than men who don’t smoke.

In 1998, lung cancer surpassed stomach cancer as Japan's deadliest form of cancer Men who smoke are 1.6 more times likely to get lung cancer than nonsmokers and former smokers were 1.4 times more likely. Still, lung cancer and smoking death rates are lower than in the United States where less people smoke.

Many doctors and people who make decisions about smoking smoke. In the early 2000s, the health budget for smoking was only $180,000. By contrast the budgets for AIDS prevention is $94 million. AIDS only kills 45 people a year,

The tar and nicotine figures are determined using outdated methods. The true figures may times higher. Second hand smoking is more of a problem in Japan than it is in other industrialized countries in part because smoking is still allowed in many places — McDonald’s, other restaurants, public buildings.

Pills and devices such a nicotine patches and vareniclone ills (which prevents nicotine from attaching to receptor cells) that help smokers break the habit are covered by Japan’s health insurance.

Anti-Smoking Efforts in Japan

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “A growing health consciousness, tighter regulations on tobacco advertising and increasingly strict smoking bans on public transport have contributed to a gradual decline in smoking. Smoking is banned in many offices, public places and government facilities. Entire building don’t allow smoking. In train stations smoking is only allowed in designated areas at the far end of the platforms. Some stations have done away with smoking areas completely. Many smokers complain there aren’t any places they can smoke anymore.

For a long time warning labels only said that smoking damages one’s health and was inconsiderate to other people. It read: "Smoking too much can damage your health, so please be careful. Please observe good manners when smoking." In August 2003, a decision was made to be more explicit on the label and warn smokers specifically that smoking can lead directly to lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. In 2004, cigarette packages were sold with bigger, more explicit warnings that warned smokers that they are four times more likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers.

In May 2003, the Diet passed the Health Promotion Law law prohibiting smoking in public places to cut down on second hand smoke. The law as widely adopted even though it imposed no penalties for breaking it. Smoking is allowed through-out much of the lower house, which passed a law.

Many national anti-smoking campaigns focus on issues of "manners" and "fairness" rather than health. Smokers are encouraged not light up, not to avoid lunger cancer or heart disease, but to avoid burning pedestrians on the street. The tobacco companies run smoking etiquette advertisements in which a European man politely admonishes adults not to smoke around children or around butterflies in nature. The message seems to be that it is alright to smoke as long as you don’t litter and are considerate of other people.

Former smokers with emphysema and lung cancer victims have filed a lawsuit against Japan Tobacco the government on the ground that their health problems were caused in part by government and JT deliberately hiding the dangers of tobacco. The first suit was filed in 1997. The wheels of justice in Japan are slow.

Anti-tobacco products are selling well. Smokeless tobacco products such as Zerotsyle Mint — which uses replaceable cartridges containing tobacco leaves and a mouthpiece — are selling well. As of 2009 about 8,700 institutions offered nicotine addiction treatments. Health insurance companies have covered such treatments since 2006. Most policies cover about 30 percent of typical five-session 12-week program which means the patient ends up paying between $150 and $230.

See Vending Machines Above

Some think the only to significantly reduce smoking is raise the price of cigarettes to around ¥1,000 a pack.

In March 2009, a 35-year-old man who was fired after complaining about the smoking of a coworkers received $70,000 in damages from his employer.

Regional Smoking Laws in Japan

Smoking laws vary from region to region. In Tokyo, smoking is banned in taxis and on private railway platform while smoking is still allowed in designated areas in many public facilities and in taxis in Osaka. One reason for this is that is that Osaka has more smokers than Tokyo and businesses worry that a tough crackdown on smokers would hurt their businesses.

A number of anti-smoking laws have been passed in Tokyo. In April 2009, a complete ban on smoking was imposed 200 JR train stations in the Tokyo area. In some places flicking ashes on the street is an offense. In other places smokers are required to use a portable ashtray they carry with them in their purse, pocket or have one attached to a necklace. In yet other places walking down a street and smoking is against the law.

Kanagawa Prefecture is considering a ban on indoor smoking at restaurants and other public places. In Osaka several main streets have been designated no smoking areas. Twelve former police officers patrol the area, telling people to stop smoking, and pass out leaflets telling people to be polite to other people.

In September 2009, smoking was banned at all JR West stations in the greater Osaka-Kyoto area.

Outdoor Smoking Laws in Japan

In November 2002, a smoking ban was imposed on the streets on Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo. Anyone caught smoking outside a designated area could be fined $16 to $160. Smoking patrols worked in two shifts. The effort was part a campaign to reduce outdoor smoking and cigarette butt littering.

Members of the patrol said that smokers who were caught fell into four categories: 1) those who claimed ignorance and were embarrassed and apologetic; 2) those who complained and berated the patrol men; 3) those who said nothing; and 4) those who ran away. It was hard to claim total ignorance as loud speakers in th ward periodically blasted messages that smoking was banned.

The fines were nonbinding but most people paid them. Based on a reduction in the number of the discarded cigarette butts the campaign was a huge success. But many people felt it was too much of an infringement on personal freedoms and encouraged smokers to smoke indoors, where more people would be exposed to second hand smoke than outside.

In April 2010, Kanagawa Prefecture began enforcing a ban of smoking inside public spaces. The new Hatoyama government elected in 2009 has called for a total ban on smoking in restaurants and hotels.

Lack of Anti-Smoking Efforts in Japan

Japan lags behind over countries in anti-smoking campaigns.The government didn't officially acknowledge there were health risks with smoking until 1987 and that was only after the anti-smoking lobby persuaded the World Health Organization to sponsor a global tobacco conference in Tokyo. A spokesman for Japan Tobacco told AP, "We do acknowledge some health risk caused by smoking, but we also think it offers some psychologically positive effects."

Smoking is still allowed in most restaurants. Most McDonald’s have smoking areas. According to one survey in the early 2000s only 2.6 percent of restaurants in Tokyo and 1.6 percent of restaurant in Osaka are smoke free.

Tobacco ads were not banned on television until 1998. After that the number of characters who smoke on dramas has doubled. All Nippon Airways made large profits by delaying implementation of the non-smoking policy.

Although smoking is discouraged in many taxis, customer light up anyway. There was one case of a taxi driver punching the driver of cab he was ridding in because he wasn’t allowed to smoke.

Lack of Anti-Smoking Efforts and the Japanese Government

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Until fairly recently last time major anti-smoking legislation was passed was in 1900 when underage smoking was outlawed. According to the Tobacco Business law, passed in 1904 and still followed, the government must make sure the tobacco industry remains healthy.

Until 2002, the government gave 15 million cigarettes to nursing homes in honor of Respect for the Aged Day. It also gave employees of the Imperial Palace cigarettes in special crest-emblazoned boxes.

Smoking is allowed in government offices. The Health Ministry’s Tobacco Control program has a budget of only $430,000. Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto reportedly smoked as much as two packs of high-tar cigarettes a day when he served as Japan's health minister. He died a few years ago.

When the Health Ministry released a preliminary report in 2000 calling for a 50 percent reduction in smoking by 2010, tobacco farmers and pro-tobacco legislators in the LDP pressured the government to draft a resolution that attacked the Health Ministry's targeted on the basis that the "impact of smoking on health isn't clear." When the final report was drafting the smoking target had disappeared.

The Finance Ministry has more say in smoking policy than the Health Ministry, which doesn’t have a single full time worker working in smoking issues. From a public policy point of view encouraging smoking makes sense. The government gets lots of money from cigarette sales and taxes and having people die off prematurely keep pension pay outs lower than they otherwise would be.”

Ban on Smoking in Japan

A ban on smoking in public places, including restaurant and bars, went into effect in February 2011 but was nonbinding, with no real way to punish customers who refused to recognize the ban and light up.

A smoking ban in all offices, factories and stores is likely to be implemented in 2012 and apply to restaurants and bars as well as workplaces. This ban is expected to have more teeth than the current nonbinding rule and is expected to require place to either completely ban smoking or have expensive special leak-proof rooms. out. The new regulations will probably have a loophole that will allow restaurants, bars and hotels to continue to allow smoking if they can make a convincing case that the ban on smoking would hurt their business. One proposed bill to require employers to ban smoking or sett up smoking rooms doesn’t include any penalties.

The first smoke-free beach opened in Kanagawa Prefecture in June 2010. Smoking is banned on the 600-meter-long Zushi beach except in designated smoking areas.

Smokers Face Increased Restrictions in Tokyo

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Extensive regulations have made it increasingly difficult for smokers to find space in downtown Tokyo to practice their habit. Smoking bans are the norm in public spaces such as office buildings. In central Tokyo, municipalities have been strengthening controls on smoking in public, with designated spaces on the street among the few places where people can smoke. But these designated smoking spaces have been closing due to continual complaints to municipal governments. Smokers may feel increasingly put-upon as areas where people must pay to smoke are emerging in the city. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2012]

“Regulations on smoking have prevailed over the past decade. Smoking was banned at railway stations and other public facilities when the Health Promotion Law was enforced in 2003, which included measures to reduce passive smoke consumption. Regulations at commercial facilities and drinking establishments were strengthened following a notification issued by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in 2010.

“Smoking areas may be set up in a separate part of a facility, with the costs incurred by the operator. Installing a smoke neutralizer and other necessary equipment can be expensive, which could deter facility operators from installing such equipment, thereby increasing the number of spaces where smoking is banned. Outdoor smoking bans have been spreading in central Tokyo. Since 2002, smoking has been banned on the street in Chiyoda Ward. Smoking is now also banned on the streets of Shinjuku and Toshima wards.

Pay Smoking Areas in Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun reportedl: Designated areas near public facilities are some of the only places where people can smoke. However, these areas have been decreasing in number. In Shibuya Ward, designated areas with ashtrays have been set up in 24 places as other principal areas, such as around Shibuya's railway and subway stations, are no-smoking zones. But people regularly smoke outside the areas when the designated spaces became too crowded. In the past year, the ward government dismantled two smoking areas after receiving numerous complaints about secondhand smoke. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2012]

“A Tokyo-based firm sees the smoking restrictions as a business opportunity. General Fundex Co. opened three smoking facilities around JR Ochanomizu Station in Chiyoda Ward earlier this month. Named "ippuku" (a puff), the facility is equipped with an air conditioner, chairs, a vending machine and large displays. Open from 6 a.m. to midnight, use of the facility costs 50 yen and there is no time limit. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2012]

“You can enjoy smoking in an air-conditioned space without being bothered by others," said Akihiro Hineno, 42, business planning director of General Fundex. "You must pay 200 yen if you order a cup of coffee at a cafe where smoking is permitted," Hineno said. "Compared to this, 50 yen is much cheaper." The three facilities are used by about 900 smokers in total per day.

“Patrons had mixed responses when asked about the facility. A 28-year-old female worker appreciated the facility's existence, saying, "It's rather nice to go there when I want to smoke without worrying about the eyes of others." But a 54-year-old company employee was sheepish, saying, "50 yen is equivalent to two cigarettes, so I'm skeptical about whether the price is worth it.”

Cigarette Prices and Quitting Smoking in Japan

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In October 2010, JT raised the prices of 100 cigarette brands from ¥320 a pack to ¥420 a pack in part to offset declines in sales that have resulted from less people smoking. In August and September 2010, cigarette sales soared as smokers stocked up before the price increase. Tobacco sales surged 88 percent in September from a year earlier, but slumped 70 percent in October, according to the Tobacco Institute of Japan, after the ban went into affect.

Many smokers vowed to quit. Products and services aimed at helping smokers quit recorded spikes in sales. Clinics said they were overwhelmed with people trying to quit. In one poll of 1,110 smokers by Rakuten Research in November after the ban went into effect, 13.9 percent of respondents said they had stopped smoking, while 15.5 percent said they planned to stop. An online survey by Macromill Inc. of 500 people who quit smoking after the hike found that 62 percent of them had not had a single puff, 18 percent had smoked a little but basically quit while only 20 percent had picked up smoking again.

But by February 2011 it was determined that the price hike had little effect on the number of people who smoked” but it did cause smokers to smoke less. A survey of 1,146 men and women by Japan’s health ministry and Prof. Yonetasu Ozaki of Tottori University found the number of male smokers rose from 36.1 percent in December 2009, 10 months before the price hike to 37.1 percent in December 2010, two months after the hike. The number of female smokers rose from 8.3 percent to 8.9 percent between December 2009 and December 2010. But the survey also showed that smokers were fewer cigarettes.

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Health professionals say that further reductions in smoking-related deaths will hinge on whether the government levies further taxes on cigarettes. The Democratic Party of Japan, which took power after the 2009 elections, has been more proactive in setting a nonsmoking agenda, and some lawmakers are pressing to do much more.” “This is just the first step. An ideal scenario is to raise tobacco prices to as much as 1,000 yen,” Democratic lawmaker, Yoko Komiyama, told the New York Times. “Whatever it takes to get more people to quit.”

In September 2011, Kyodo reported, nearly 40 percent of people who gave up smoking in response to cigarette price hikes a year ago are continuing their abstention from tobacco, a survey by drugmaker Pfizer Japan Inc. One out of every three smokers discontinued smoking shortly before or after October 2010, according to the online survey conducted in August based on replies given by 6,713 people. [Source: Kyodom September 29, 2011]

The poll found 2,355 people started their efforts to discontinue smoking, but only 907, or about 39 percent, of those who quit smoking, were found to be continuing the abstention at the time of the poll. In a multiple-choice question about why they tried to quit smoking, 1,756 respondents, or 75 percent, said they became wary of the higher prices, followed by 864, or 37 percent, who said they were concerned about their health. Of 5,806 who now smoke, 3,095 persons said they would give up smoking depending on cigarette prices.

Shortage of Pfizer Anti-Smoking Drug in Japan

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Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, was unable to keep up with demand for its Champix anti-smoking drug when a hike in price of cigarettes caused an influx of smokers to go to antismoking clinics in an effort to kick the habit. Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “The tax increase should also have been a bonanza for Pfizer...Instead, it became a missed opportunity. Despite ample notice of the change, Pfizer failed to produce enough of the drug, Chantix, which is sold as Champix in Japan. When tens of thousands of would-be quitters rushed to their doctors for prescriptions, Pfizer was overwhelmed. Less than two weeks after the tax increase went into effect, the company was forced to suspend sales of the drug to new patients until it could ramp up production.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 3, 2011]

“While sales of nicotine patches and smoking alternatives have risen, Chantix seems to be the preference for smokers trying to stop,” Tabuchi wrote. “Introduced in the United States in 2006, Chantix, which works by blocking receptors in the brain and suppressing the positive feelings induced by cigarettes, was initially seen as a global blockbuster. But reports of possible side effects, including aggression and thoughts of suicide, prompted the F.D.A. in 2009 to require the drug to carry the agency’s strongest warning on its packaging. That set off a sharp drop in sales in the United States. Clearing Japan’s drug-approval process in 2008, Pfizer successfully wooed Japanese doctors to prescribe the drug. Japan’s national health insurance covered 70 percent of the 60,000-yen cost for a recommended 12-week prescription.”

To stoke public interest, Pfizer started a major ad campaign, starring the slick Hiroshi Tachi, Japan’s answer to the chain-smoking Don Draper of America’s “Mad Men.” Mr. Tachi declared that Chantix had helped him quit smoking, and posed in posters with a party horn between his fingers instead of his trademark cigarette. Soon, Japanese blogs raved about the new “almighty” drug that would help Japan kick its cigarette habit. (There has been little coverage here of Chantix’s potential side effects.)

Particularly irritating to many smokers is that Pfizer had almost a year to prepare for a surge in demand; the tax increase was approved in December 2009. “After all that advertising, it turns out they don’t have enough,” Hiroya Kumamaru, director of the KI Akihabara Clinic in Tokyo told the New York Times, His clinic turned away patients as it only had enough of the drug for only the 80 patients who began their treatment before the supply squeeze. “They should have predicted something like this,” he said. A Pfizer spokesman in Tokyo, Kinji Iwase, said the company misjudged interest in the drug among Japanese smokers. “An extraordinary number of people decided to quit, and our reading of the situation was off,” Mr. Iwase said. “We expected more demand, but not to this extent.”

Decline in Smoking in Japan

The smoking rate in Japan hit an all-time low of 19.5 percent in 2010, down 3.9 percent from the preceding year according to Japan’s health ministry. Smoking is declining as result of anti-smoking efforts, population declines and concerns by ordinary people about their health. Smoking rates have dropped steadily since the mid 1990s. Domestic sales of cigarettes dropped 5 percent in 2002. In 2003, 3.6 percent less adults smoked than in 1999. The number of men who smoke fell below 40 percent for the first time in 2005. In 2009, the number of smokers dropped below 25 percent for the first time to 24.9 percent.

Nicotine patches and gums are available and advertised on television. Information on quitting smoking is available online. Hospitals and clinics offer special outpatient anti-smoking programs. Some smokers have responded to national anti-smoking days and at least tried to quit. Criticism of smoking is also growing. Forty percent of women and 60 percent of men prefer lovers who don’t smoke. About 70 percent of young men said they don’t to marry a woman who smokes.

In a survey by Tokyo Hosei University, 60 percent of college students said they wouldn’t marry a smoker.

Due to sluggish sales, JT closed its century-old Moriaka cigarette plant in March 2010. Opened in 1905, the plant produced 13.1 billion cigarettes a year at its peak in 2004 but said production decline to about half that by 2008. The company has plans to close more plants soon.

Cigarette Taxes and Farmers in Japan

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The tobacco industry earns the Japanese government $19 billion a year in taxes, almost 3 percent of the government's total revenues.

Tax on cigarettes have been raised. But cigarettes prices in Japan are about half those in other advanced nations. Laws that require buildings to expensive, special smoking rooms have forced many buildings to disallow smoking.

The new government elected in 2009 is considering raising the tobacco tax.

in December 2008 there was discussion of raising the tobacco tax — even raising it so high that the price of pack of cigarettes would triple to $10 a pack — to help fund social security and raise government fund during the economic crisis in 2008 but in the end the bid to raise taxes was snuffed out because of opposition from tobacco industry organizations and lawmakers who depend on the industry for votes,

Tobacco is grown in Japan. The number of tobacco farmers has declined from around 44,000 in 1989 to around 12,000 in 2008, with most of them in Tohuko and Kyushu. The interests of Japan’s 12,000 tobacco farmers has traditionally been one of the government’s excuses for not cracking down more on smoking.

In September 2011, Kyodo , reported that nearly 40 percent of leaf tobacco growers in Japan intend to discontinue cultivation in or after 2012, responding to a recent call from Japan Tobacco Inc. for volunteers to cease cultivation amid declining tobacco sales. Japan Tobacco Growers Association surveyed 10,650 tobacco growers farming 13,930 hectares through its 21 member associations across Japan, finding that 4,106, or 38.6 percent, plan to stop cultivation, it said. The 4,106 growers combined currently cultivate 4,412 hectares, equivalent to more than 30 percent of the total area under cultivation. Falling tobacco sales prompted Japan Tobacco to solicit tobacco farmers willing to end cultivation as it is legally obligated to buy all tobacco leaves from domestic growers. [Source: Kyodo, September 17, 2011]

JT Changes Mild Seven Name to 'Mevius' to Expand Global Market Share

In August 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Japan Tobacco Inc. has announced it will change the name of its flagship cigarette brand from "Mild Seven" to "Mevius" in a bid to expand its global market share. Launched in 1977, Mild Seven is a leading national brand with about a 30 percent share of the domestic market. However, in November 2012, the company introduces a new package design in Japan and will introduce the new name in early February 2013. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 10, 2012]

The taste of the cigarette will remain unchanged, and the new packaging will continue to be used for the Mevius brand. Over 12 months in 2012 and 2013, JT gradually introduced the Mevius brand in international markets. The company selected the Mevius name to establish a connection to its predecessor as both include the letters "M" and "S." JT did not reveal any other names it considered. JT hopes the name change will help it secure profits by boosting overseas sales amid a shrinking domestic cigarette market. European regulations were another factor behind the name change. JT intends to avoid restrictions on brand names and presentations--for example, using words such as "light" and "mild"--that could give consumers the impression the products have lower health risks.

Mild Seven has been the best-selling cigarette brand in Japan since 1978. Currently, domestic sales top 1 trillion yen and they are sold in 16 countries and territories, such as Taiwan, South Korea and Russia. Last year, Mild Seven sold 76.5 billion cigarettes, of which only one-fourth--or 18.9 billion cigarettes--were from overseas sales.

JT President Mitsuomi Koizumi said the company aims to expand overseas operations with its mainstay product. "Overseas marketing for the Camel and Winston brands, which we acquired in 1999, has been well on track. [Mild] Seven is next," Koizumi said at a press conference Wednesday. Mild Seven, which sold 76.5 billion cigarettes in 2011, is JT's second-largest brand by sales. Winston is the largest with sales of 130.7 billion cigarettes. However, Mild Seven's overseas sales are not as impressive as its domestic sales. "It [Mild Seven] has made inroads into Asia, but is still unknown in Europe and the United States," Koizumi said.

In a consumer survey, Mevius was chosen by respondents as the best name in terms of evoking a sense of luxury, sophistication and evolution, according to the company. The company said the packaging for Mevius will be the same worldwide to internationalize the brand. "We've successfully revitalized the struggling brands Winston and Camel by improving product quality and introducing a universal package design," JT Vice President Akira Saeki said. "We'll use that know-how [for Mild Seven].”

Image Sources: 1) Ray Kinnane, 2) Andrew Gray Photosensibility, 3) Photomann, 4) British Museum, 5) Goods from Japan 6) exorsyst blog 7) Hector Garcia 8), 9)
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Last updated January 2013

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