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Support Offered via Cell Phone for Quitting Smoking

March 22, 2001
Messages of encouragement are sent to smokers registered with Sotsuen Netto via mobile phones. (Shogakukan)

Today in Japan there are over 40,000 sites that can be viewed on Internet-capable mobile phones. A recent addition has been an Internet service via cell phone that calls on smokers to "enjoy the challenge of quitting smoking." When a smoker who has been hit by the desire to smoke presses a few buttons on his or her phone, words of encouragement and advice show up on the screen, complete with illustrations.

Cyber Clinic
The Website, called Sotsuen Netto (Net for Quitting Smoking) (Japanese only), was jointly developed by Mayumi Abe, an instructor at Tokyo Women's Medical University, and the publisher Shogakukan. About seven years ago Abe opened a clinic that instructs patients on specific measures for giving up smoking. By combining information technology with the know-how she has gained through running the clinic, support has been made available anytime and anyplace for people who wish to break the habit. Shogakukan, which handles various types of communication media, took charge of constructing the actual system and creating the content.

Sotsuen Netto users are to access the Website once a day for 90 days and keep a diary on whether or not they were able to refrain from smoking that day. A successful day leads to the growth of a pet character that users breed online. If they feel a strong desire to smoke, they can send out an SOS signal from their phones. A computer system determines the level of distress a client is in due to lack of nicotine based on his or her personal data, such as how many days it has been since the client started the program and how many times he or she has smoked since then. It then sends advice to the client, such as "Why not try refreshing yourself with a cup of water?" and "Just one more day. Hang in there until tomorrow morning!" The advice is chosen from several hundred variations, among which are also included tips on effective pressure points for easing one's irritation.

Price of a Cigarette Pack
The monthly fee for the service is 260 yen (2.17 U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar), the price of an average pack of cigarettes in Japan. Sotsuen Netto was launched on February 1, 2001, and in just a month close to 2,000 people applied for membership. "We will keep working on improving the contents to better meet the needs of clients," says a representative of Shogakukan. "And in the future, we would like to consider offering the service in other Asian countries, where the percentages of smokers tend to be high."

Sotsuen Netto is currently available only through the roughly 4 million Internet-capable phones provided by the J-Phone Group. In the near future, however, owners of other companies' cell phones will be able to use the service.

Of course, the Japanese are duly aware that smoking is unhealthy. Still, with 59.0% of men and 14.8% of women smoking according to 1997 figures published by the World Health Organization, the percentage of smokers in Japan is considerably higher than that of most other developed countries, including Germany (36.8% of men and 21.5% of women) and the United States (28.1% of men and 23.5% of women). Although a large number of products to help people quit smoking are sold in Japan, no significant decline has been seen in the number of smokers.

As an interactive system grounded in information technology, Sotsuen Netto is attracting attention as a potential groundbreaker for people who have never been successful in their efforts to quit smoking.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 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.