The government in early June set a numerical target for reducing the percentage of Japanese adult smokers — the fist attempt of its kind — and incorporated it into a five-year basic program to push countermeasures against cancer from fiscal 2012 to 2016 and into a fiscal 2013-22 program to promote the health of people dubbed “Healthy Japan 21.”

The target, consisting of reducing the smoking rate among Japanese men and women to 12 percent by fiscal 2022 from the 19.5 percent in fiscal 2010, is consistent with the provisions of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The government should take the necessary steps to achieve this target. In doing so, it should fully involve local governments and businesses.

In 1999, 2006 and 2007, the government tried to set a goal of halving the number of smokers. Each time it encountered opposition from the tobacco industry, the Finance Ministry — which has the tobacco industry under its jurisdiction — and from Diet members close to the industry, and had to quash the plan.

This time it paid attention to a survey by the health and welfare ministry on people’s health and nutrition, which shows that about 40 percent of smokers want to quit smoking. Thus it adopted a plan to reduce the percentage of smokers roughly by that margin from the fiscal 2010 figure. This approach helped soften opposition from the tobacco establishment.

The government should publicize the benefits of not smoking to both smokers and nonsmokers. The latter is susceptible to the effects of passive smoking (nonsmokers breathing in secondhand smoke). Smoking is believed to cause about 30 percent of cancer cases. Smoking is also linked to increased heart attack risk and other diseases.

An estimated 130,000 Japanese die every year due to effects attributable to smoking. Quitting smoking almost immediately exerts a desirable effect in preventing future heart attacks, although it takes five to 10 years to show a lower cancer rate.

Importantly the government set the goal of eliminating passive smoking in workplaces by 2020 and at administrative offices and hospitals by fiscal 2022.

By fiscal 2020, it also set the twin goal of reducing the daily passive smoking rate in homes to 3 percent from the 10.7 percent in fiscal 2010, and the percentage of customers exposed to passive smoking in restaurants to 15 percent from the current 50 percent.

As of May 2012, the smoking rate for Japanese adult males was 32.7 percent, and for females, 10.4 percent, according to Japan Tobacco Inc. The rate is still high compared with other developed countries. Doctors should make it known that health insurance can now be applied to treatment for smoking cessation.

The government should consider legal measures to punish operators of public places who do not take steps to prevent passive smoking, along the lines of Kanagawa Prefecture’s bylaw, which fines such operators.

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