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Cigarette Advertising Banished from Air Waves

December 15, 1997

Smokers won't be seeing as many ads for their brands from next April. (Photo: Kyodo)

From April 1998, domestic and overseas cigarette makers will no longer be able to tout their brands on TV, radio, or via any other electronic media. The industry-sponsored initiative, aimed at stopping smoking among minors, comes from the Tobacco Institute of Japan, which has decided to revise its own standards. The action brings Japan in line with major Western countries, where there has been fierce social criticism of tobacco advertising.

Tobacco Takes Itself Off the Air
In Japan, tobacco manufacturing is monopolized by Japan Tobacco Inc., which was formed after privatization of the public corporation that formerly ran the industry. The new industry standards decided by the TIJ, which groups JT and four major overseas tobacco firms, completely banish brand-based commercials not only from television and radio, but also from cinema screens, outdoor advertising display screens, and the Internet. And a blanket ban will be imposed on free promotional handouts of sample packs in the street--a common advertising ploy in Japan. All these measures will come into effect on April 1, 1998, after which day brand-specific commercials will only be permitted in newspapers, magazines, and other printed media.

The association began compiling its independent standards for advertising and sales strategy in 1985. The standards underwent several rounds of revision in response to societal pressures. As things now stand, the rules allow brand-specific advertising on television only during the late-night slot (10:55 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.) on weekdays, and ban sample handouts and other promotional activities within 100 meters of the gates of primary and secondary schools.

However, as minors have come to watch more and more late-night TV, tobacco companies have had to reconsider advertising on that medium. According to a June 1997 ratings survey, the percentage of teenagers who watch TV between 11:00 p.m. and midnight has leaped from single figures to 17.8%. The fact that smoking among minors is growing into a social problem prompted tobacco companies to discontinue all brand-based advertising. In all, advertising for 25 brands will be blacked out, except for ads encouraging smokers to show consideration to others.

Smokers Cornered
In many developed nations, social disapproval of smoking is severe, and nearly all of them have banned brand-based cigarette advertising on TV. They have also applied strong pressure to limit the areas where smoking is allowed and to force makers to print health warnings on cigarette cartons. In Japan too, growing awareness of the health hazards and the increasing number of underage smokers have stimulated efforts to get smoking banned and separate smokers from nonsmokers in public spaces, on public transportation, and in workplaces.

According to a May 1997 JT survey, the proportion of adult smokers has sunk to 34.6%, reaching a new low for the second year running. Overall the trend away from smoking is gathering momentum. But although the proportion of male smokers dropped 1.4 points to 56.1%, the sixth straight record low annual figure, the proportion of female smokers edged up by 0.3 points to 14.5%. Female smoking rates have shown little change over the past few years.

In its white paper for 1997, the Ministry of Health and Welfare for the first time included a section on "the smoking habit," in which it described, among other things, the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer. It designated smoking as a health hazard, and also mentioned the risks of passive smoking to nonsmokers.

The industry's unprecedented tightening of its own advertising standards is probably both a reaction to changing social attitudes and also an effort to sidestep critics who seek to subject tobacco companies to tighter external controls.
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