Smoking rate in Japan has declined by half since beginning of Heisei Era in 1989

JIJI, Kyodo

The proportion of smokers is dropping in Japan, with the figure in 2018 down by half from the rate of 36 percent when the Heisei Era began in 1989.

Japan Tobacco Inc. attributes the decline to increasing health awareness, an aging population, tougher smoking regulations and higher cigarette prices due chiefly to tax hikes.

According to a survey by Japan Tobacco, the smoking rate among people aged 20 and older fell to 17.9 percent in 2018 from 36.1 percent in 1989. The proportion of smokers among adult men plummeted to 27.8 percent from 61.1 percent. The rates for both men and women have hit their lowest levels since the survey was launched in 1965.

The smoking rate has continued falling since peaking in 1966, at 49.4 percent in total and at 83.7 percent for men.

Antismoking movements are viewed as one cause of the drop. According to Fumisato Watanabe, head of a center for information on tobacco issues, almost no public and transportation facilities had smoking regulations when he started a movement for nonsmokers’ rights some 40 years ago.

In 1987, railway stations started banning smoking in phases. Smoking became prohibited inside trains as well. In 1999, airlines banned smoking on all passenger planes.

Under the revised health promotion law that was enacted last July, smoking will be prohibited in principle April 1, 2020, at facilities that many people use, such as offices, restaurants and hotel lobbies. Such facilities will be allowed to set up special rooms, where no food or drink will be served, that can be used exclusively by smokers.

Starting this July 1, smoking will be prohibited inside all buildings at schools, hospitals and government bodies.

Ordinances with tougher regulations on smoking to prevent secondhand smoke have also been established in some municipalities, including Tokyo and the city of Chiba.

Watanabe, 81, said the movement for nonsmokers’ rights began with the wish to prevent passive smoking. “It was good that the law was revised and ordinances were established, although they are still weak,” he said.

Smokers have also seen tobacco prices rise.

In 1989, the price of a pack of Japan Tobacco’s mainstay Mild Seven cigarettes, the predecessor of the Mevius brand, stood at ¥220. Now the cost is ¥480, due chiefly to tax hikes.

Meanwhile, major cigarette makers are now focusing on heat-not-burn products.

A Japan Tobacco official said such products smell less and are considered to have lower health risks.

Restaurants will be allowed to set up special rooms for smokers using heat-not-burn tobacco products where food or drink will be served. Use of the products is gradually spreading, but it is uncertain whether cigarette makers will be able to attract new customers.