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Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Itami's no-smoking goal draws fire

Tobacco firms fail to convince mayor to rescind 10-year target

Staff writer

ITAMI, Hyogo Pref. -- The Itami Municipal Government's decision to target total elimination of adult smoking in its 10-year health plan has caused an uproar among tobacco lobbyists.

The plan, announced April 4, is the local version of the "Health Japan 21" national health plan put forward in March 2000.

While the central government had initially planned to aim for a 50 percent reduction in adult smokers, protests from the tobacco industry extinguished that idea.

The city's 10-year plan includes 78 checkpoints in nine areas of public health. Although these points are almost identical to those of the central government, there is one crucial difference -- Itami's version calls for no adult smokers in the city of 190,000 by 2010.

Itami's plan might have slipped through unnoticed if not for the media attention it received, which rang alarm bells within the tobacco industry.

The Hyogo Tobacco Sales Association and the Hanshin Tobacco Business Cooperative visited Itami City Hall and demanded the target figure be dropped from the health plan.

Japan Tobacco Inc., a monopolistic enterprise partly owned by the national government, made the same demand.

Mayor Tsutomu Matsushita, however, would not budge.

He said the target was included to encourage people to think of their health and is not intended to change individual habits or tastes.

A city official said the target is simply an ideal, or reference, for local residents to use in setting their own target, depending on their health and personal priorities.

"The city's health plan is for the residents to safeguard their own health," he said. "Although the adult smoking rate was not included in the central government health plan, we wanted to provide the residents a reference for their own good."

The official said the city decided to up the ante on the national government's initial target of a 50 percent reduction because "setting the target at half of the current adult smoking rate would be meaningless. And given the current social trend (of increasingly preferring nonsmoking), such a target would be much more difficult to explain than aiming for zero percent."

Having said that, however, the official said protests would not have been so fierce if it were not for the media attention.

"The smoking rate is just one of many checkpoints and we did not expect that this particular point alone would be picked up in such a sensational manner," the official said.

Masao Tsugumoto, secretary general of the Hanshin Tobacco Business Cooperative, said the intense media coverage was behind their own swift reaction, while Hidehito Iwata of Japan Tobacco's Osaka branch said JT would have protested regardless.

The tobacco industry protests have been met by the voices of supporters of the target.

From a medical point of view, it is only natural to aim for a zero smoking rate, said Yuko Takahashi, a doctor at Yamato Takada City Hospital in Nara Prefecture.

"I think the tobacco industry could not help protesting against Itami's plan because they are living on tobacco," she said.

"But it seems inconceivable to me that the products will remain as a commodity for long because their ill effects only become clearer."

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