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Japanese Government Supports Efforts to Quit Smoking

April 28, 2000

Some smokers, though well aware of tobacco's harmful effects, just cannot bring themselves to give up this vice. However, with "no smoking" rules becoming increasingly prevalent--not only at workplaces and in public facilities, such as transit stations and hospitals, but even at home--there are fewer and fewer places where smokers can light up. Still, some die-hards simply cannot kick the habit; even the shame of being called unwise or weak willed does not dissuade them. But now the Japanese government is stepping in with a program to help smokers quit. The Stop-Smoking Support Program, which starts in fiscal 2000, aims to offer advice on how to effectively shake off the habit.

One in Four Smokers Wants to Quit but Can't
Smoking is on the decline in Japan, since information on the dangers of tobacco has spread throughout the country. Another factor mitigating against smoking is the increasingly hostile social climate. Since 1988, when no-smoking cabs appeared on the streets, prohibitions against smoking have spread to trains, airlines, public facilities, and offices. This anti-smoking attitude is also taking root in a growing number of households, where other family members make Dad go outside when he wants to light up. But even in this unsympathetic environment, some cigarette lovers relentlessly pursue nicotine nirvana, hiding in the lavatory or stepping out into the hall to sneak a puff. Smokers often find themselves exiled to the balcony or patio, where their lighted cigarettes cast a forlorn glow. This new breed of "fireflies," as they are often called, has become a fixture of the Japanese landscape.

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in spring 1999 shows that Japan still has a high percentage of smokers: 52.8% of men and 13.4% of women. However, 26.7% of these smokers say they would like to quit, and 37.5% would like to cut down. The main reason smokers give for wanting to quit is that smoking is bad for their health; over 80% cited this reason. It appears that a lot of smokers want to quit but cannot.

Why is it so hard to stop smoking? Cigarettes are habit forming, not only because they contain nicotine, but also because people get accustomed to having their mouths and hands occupied by the physical act of smoking. Highly addicted people may need professional help, but only a small number of doctors offer this kind of therapy, and there has been little in the way of assistance from government organizations. Now the Ministry of Health and Welfare has decided to make it easier for people who want to quit smoking to get the guidance they need.

The Stop-Smoking Support Program
The Health and Welfare Ministry cites cigarette smoking as a risk factor for many cancers, including lung and stomach cancer, as well as for heart disease and strokes. According to the ministry's 1995 estimates, illnesses related to cigarette smoking cause 95,000 fatalities in Japan each year. Recognizing smoking as a habit that poses a grave danger to health, it is swiftly moving forward with plans to raise public awareness of the risks.

Meanwhile, it has determined that smokers trying to quit need government support in the form of a program grounded in behavioral science and pharmacology and, accordingly, plans to form a panel of experts in these fields by summer 2000 to put together a program at the earliest possible date. The ministry also says it would like both to train public health professionals who can provide smoking cessation therapy and to set up help desks at public health centers.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.