Offering a less-harmful alternative to deadly smoking has prompted a drop in to buy fewer cigarettes, sending cigarette sales down by 34 percent.
“Japan has the makings of a great tobacco harm reduction case study,” says Patrik Strömer, Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers.
According to figures from the OECD. 17.8 percent of Japanese adults were daily smokers in 2019. At the same time, cigarette sales have been declining since 2011 in line with trends in other wealthy nations.
Drop in Japan cigarette sales
However, following the 2014 introduction of non-combustible alternatives to Japan, cigarette sales dropped sharply, falling by 34.2 percent between 2015 and 2019 alone, according to figures from a 2020 study analyzing the trend.
At the same time, sales of heat-not-burn tobacco products have increased from 5.1 billion sticks to 37.1 billion.
“Domestic cigarette sales in Japan appear to have declined at an accelerated pace since 2016 following the introduction of HTPs into the Japanese national marketplace,” the study’s authors wrote.
Speaking at a recent seminar discussing smoking trends in Japan, Dr. Kumamaru Hiroya, a preventive physician specialising in smoking cessation and Vice Director of the AOI Universal Hospital in Kawasaki, highlighted the impact of less harmful alternatives.
“Ever since 2014, three heated tobacco products have been launched officially nationwide in Japan and these have been penetrating 25 percent [of total smoking population], and this product has been successful to reduce cigarette smoking in Japan so far by 30 percent in three to four years,” he explained.
Snus remains banned
Despite the positive trend following the introduction of heat-not-burn tobacco in Japan, other low-risk alternatives such as e-cigarettes and snus remain illegal.
“The study demonstrates once again that smokers are ready to switch to products with lower health risks. Unfortunately, in the case of Japan, other alternatives like snus and e-cigarettes remain banned, depriving the country of additional potential public health gains,” says Strömer.
He points to the role of snus as a decisive factor in helping cut smoking in Norway despite otherwise tough tobacco regulations.
“Norway’s experience with snus is similar to what you see in Japan following the introduction of heat-not-burn. Just imagine what might happen if Japan were to also lift the current bans on other nicotine alternatives,” he says.