Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa expressed willingness Thursday to raise taxes on tobacco products starting in fiscal 2003.

“We would like to ask smokers to tolerate mild tax hikes,” Shiokawa told the House of Councilors committee on fiscal and financial affairs. “I think smokers will understand this.”

The government considered raising taxes on tobacco in fiscal 2002 in the course of last year’s debate on tax system modifications, but gave up on the idea for fear of angering smokers.

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