Price Hike Unlikely to Deter Japan's Smokers
TOKYO (Reuters) - A rise in Japan's tobacco tax from Tuesday will fill state coffers but smokers say the higher cost is not enough for them to kick the habit in a country where prices are still among the lowest in the industrialized world.
"I would prefer it if the price didn't rise, but it won't make me cut back and I have no intention of giving up," said one young woman puffing away outside one of the city's many non-smoking office buildings on a rainy afternoon.
Tobacco consumption in the world's second-largest economy has been falling for several years, but about 30 percent of the population -- and half of Japanese men -- still smoke.
The rates are far higher than Europe and North America, but slightly lower than China and Russia, according to the World Health Organization (news - web sites).
Despite the tax increase, prices are still cheap compared with other rich countries. The rise of around one yen per cigarette will leave Japan Tobacco Inc's top-selling Mild Seven brand at around 270 yen ($2.26) per packet of 20, less than a third of the price in Britain.
Once known as a tobacco addict's paradise, Japan is beginning to clamp down on smoking, and puffing on the pavement is illegal in some crowded areas of central Tokyo.
One Tokyo smoker said a bigger price rise would have helped wean him off the habit.
"If they put the price up to 500 or 700 yen, I would definitely give up, but this is so half-hearted," said the 38-year-old worker at a medical supplies company as he lit up.
An advisory panel on Tuesday urged the government to require tobacco companies to print stricter health warnings on cigarette packets, pointing out that smoking is linked with lung cancer and other diseases, Kyodo news agency said.
Currently, Japanese cigarette packets tell consumers: "Let's be careful about smoking too much because there is a danger of damaging one's health."
The Japanese government has forecast that the tax increase, the first in four years, will result in a rise in annual tax revenue of 200 billion yen ($1.67 billion).