Japan Tobacco gift `bid to kill off the elderly'

JAPAN'S BIGGEST cigarette manufacturer has ignited a row over a plan to donate millions of free cigarettes to thousands of nursing homes around the country. Japan Tobacco says the gift is its effort to mark today's national "Respect for the Aged" day.

But the outraged Japanese anti-smoking lobby has accused the company of plotting to kill millions of elderly people. "This is practically telling people to hurry up and die," said Bungaku Watanabe, head of the Tobacco Problems Information Centre. "It is almost the same as pushing them in front of a train". But a spokesman for Japan Tobacco, a former state monopoly, said their "contribution to society" was a way "to give something back". The company still enjoys the sole right to produce tobacco in Japan and has an 80 per cent share of the market.

Campaigners lodged official protests saying the gift is a clear breach of the spirit of the day, which is supposed to pay homage to "the longevity of the elderly".

Smoking costs Japan more than 4 trillion yen (pounds 25bn) a year in smoking- related diseases and premature death.