Activists Fume Over Free Cigarettes For Elderly
Cigarette maker Japan Tobacco had antismoking activists gasping Tuesday over its plan to give millions of cigarettes to nursing homes around the country.
This is practically telling people to hurry up and die," said Bungaku Watanabe, head of the Tobacco Problems Information Center. "It's almost the same as pushing them in front of a train."
But Japan Tobacco spokesman Seiichi Hayashida called the free smokes, to mark Respect for the Aged day Wednesday, "a way for us to make a contribution to society."
The practice dates from 1965, when the firm was a government-run monopoly. Now privatized, it still has the sole right to produce tobacco in Japan and an 80 percent market share.
Hayashida said that while the number of cigarettes to be distributed this year is undecided, in 1998 JT passed out around 15 million cigarettes to some 5,000 nursing homes.
Despite recent moves to ban smoking in some public places, Japan's anti-smoking zeal has lagged behind that of most other industrialized countries.