Japanese smokers given plenty of new options

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The Independent Online

With the smoking rate declining among both men and women in Japan, tobacco companies are releasing new brands in the country to keep the smoking public happy.

A study released November 9 by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare showed that the smoking rate among men has fallen to 36.8 percent - the lowest level since such surveys were started in 1986 - while the figure for women came to 9.1 percent, below the 10 percent threshold for the first time since 2001.

Overall, the smoking rate stood at 21.8 percent, down sharply from 27.7 percent just five years ago.

"We believe there are various factors behind for the decreases, including an aging society, increased health-consciousness and more stringent regulations on smoking," Kazunori Hayashi, a spokesman for domestic tobacco giant Japan Tobacco, told Relaxnews.

"And while previous results have shown that cigarettes are relatively recession-proof, the sluggish economy may also have had an impact in total cigarette demand," he said.

Undeterred, JT has launched a series of new products, with more to come in the coming weeks.

In August, the company added to its world-famous Seven Stars brand with the introduction as the Seven Stars Black Charcoal Menthol Box, with the cigarettes incorporating a new membrane technology for charcoal filters that does not diminish the flavor of the menthol.

Last year, the company tested out an unusual new take on the classic Camel brand of cigarettes, launching the Camel Nutty Lights Box.

Its next launch is scheduled for December, when the Pianissimo Icene Menthol 1 becomes available, part of the company's focus on three segments within the industry; the 1 milligramme tar product, menthol lines and high-end products above Y320 (€2.38) for a packet of 20.

"We have been and will continue to introduce a number of new products, mainly in our core brands," said Hayashi, adding that the company has also increased its product presence through over-the-counter sales channels, mostly at Japan's myriad convenience stores.

Yet the government's study still revealed that fully 28.5 percent of men who smoke and more than 37 percent of the female smokers want to quit.

That desire to quit might just get an extra nudge if the government goes ahead with reported plans to raise the tax on tobacco products.