“Since smoking might injure your health, let’s be careful not to smoke too much.”

Admittedly it might lose something in the translation, but this Japanese tobacco warning – a feature of the nation’s cigarette packets for 14 years – must rank as one of the world’s more halfhearted anti-smoking measures.

All this is to change, however, with the Japanese government’s decision last week to force tobacco firms to display more explicit cautions on packaging.

According to the Ministry of Finance, cigarette packets will shortly have to carry warnings that smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, strokes and heart disease. These messages will also highlight the perils of passive smoking and addiction to nicotine, as well as the effects smoke can have on pregnant women and children. Such admonitions must cover at least 30% of cigarette packets and be visible on both sides.

A Ministry official revealed that pressure from Japanese doctors and the anti-tobacco treaty recently agreed by the World Health Organisation [WAMN: 22-May-03] had influenced the decision.

Japan has one of the highest male smoking rates of the industrial world (54% of the country’s men smoked in 2000). However, the government has hitherto resisted calls to increase awareness of the health risks – a reluctance critics claim is not unconnected with the Ministry of Finance’s two-thirds stake in Japan Tobacco.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff