Japanese take up old-fashioned alternative to pricey cigarettes
Saturday 11 December 2010
The increase in the tax on cigarettes in October has reignited sales of loose tobacco in Japan, which is designed to be smoked in old-fashioned pipes known as "kiseru."
The Japanese government raised the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products as much as 40 percent on October 1, with retailers reporting "panic buying" in the weeks leading up to that date.
Figures released by the government show that cigarette sales were up a remarkable 88 percent in September.
But the increase on shredded tobacco was a mere Y30 (€0.27), raising the price to Y360 (€3.25) for a box, because of a difference in tax rates between ready-rolled cigarette and loose tobacco.
Sales of "Koiki" brand loose tobacco accounts an "extremely small" percentage of Japan Tobacco Inc.'s total sales, according to spokesman Yoshinori Tsuchiya, but that is creeping up as the company has not witnessed the steep decline in sales in the months since the tax hike.
" 'Koiki' is fine-cut Japanese tobacco that is not for roll-your-own cigarettes or a regular pipe, but for the traditional 'kiseru' pipe," Tsuchiya told Relaxnews.
"The biggest differences between roll-your-own tobacco and that for a Japanese pipe is that Koiki is cut finer than hair - less than 0.3 milimetres - and no additives are included, so the smoker can enjoy the original flavour of the tobacco," he said.
Japan Tobacco stopped producing kiseru in 1979 as the popularity of cigarettes soared, but "Koiki" was launched in 1985 to meet demand from purists who yearened for a revival of Japanese tobacco culture, Tsuchiya said.
The product is made by hand at a single JT factory, but the company also owns the "Old Holborn" and "Amber Leaf" brands of rolling tobacco, while "Golden Virginia" and "Drum" can also be purchased in Japan.
"I first tried roll-your-own cigarettes on holiday in Europe because they are not at all common in Japan, but I liked the taste and I do prefer them to regular cigarettes," said Kanako Hosomura, 28, a bar worker from Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. "And it is nice to be doing something different from everyone else around me."
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