In the first revision of cigarette warning labels in 14 years, Japanese tobacco companies will be required to state the dangers of smoking more clearly on their packaging, government officials said Wednesday.
Eight new warning labels have been approved that directly address the risks of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, according to the Finance Ministry.
The warnings also point out the dangers to pregnant women and children, and highlight the risks of nicotine addiction.
Current labeling only says that cigarettes can damage one’s health and warns against excessive smoking.
The government has a strong financial interest in tobacco sales, and has long been accused by antismoking groups of putting its own fiscal gain over public health.
The Finance Ministry, which has traditionally controlled tobacco-related issues, owns two-thirds of Japan Tobacco Inc., the tobacco production monopoly. It also relies on steady revenues from tobacco taxes.
About 2.6 percent of Japan’s expected national tax revenues, some 1.16 trillion yen, is expected to come from such taxes in the coming fiscal year.
Finance Ministry official Yasuo Toka said the decision to change the labels comes as doctors, the health ministry and other government bodies are pushing increasingly for tobacco control.
The new warnings, prompted by guidelines set at a World Health Organization tobacco control convention in May, will be required to cover at least 30 percent of the package and be visible on both sides, the ministry said.
But it has not decided when the revised labels will appear on cigarette packs, ministry official Katsuya Nishitani said.
Smoking is widely prevalent in Japan, where smokers and nonsmokers sit side-by-side in restaurants and many offices are home to a permanent haze.
According to industry data, nearly one in three Japanese smokes, giving the country one of the highest smoking rates in the industrialized world.
On Tuesday, Japan Tobacco raised the price of cigarettes, but at an average of 270 yen for a pack of 20, the increase is not expected to put a dent in the number of smokers.
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