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Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006
Tax hike gets people to stub out for good
Tobacco industry adapting as antismoking movement catches fire
By JUN HONGO
Miho Shimada has seen the difference 1 yen can make.
The 34-year-old hypnotherapist at Allen Carr Tokyo, which claims to have the key to quitting smoking, says that since the tobacco-tax increase on July 1 -- equivalent to 1 yen per cigarette -- business has been booming.
"Our home page started getting more than 3,000 hits a day by the end of June, which is three times the number before news spread of the tobacco tax hike," Shimada said. "The number of actual clients has doubled in the last couple of months."
The rise of between 20 yen and 30 yen a pack has been an incentive for many smokers to find a way to snuff out the risky pleasure for good.
It costs 49,800 yen for three months of hypnotherapy treatment. The money is refunded if, at the end, the smoker has not kicked the habit.
As testament to the program's popularity, sessions are fully booked into September, according to Shimada. Allen Carr, which opened its Tokyo office in May 2005, is expanding into Nagoya in September due to the high demand there.
A woman in her 30s, who asked not to be named, said the therapy was easy and "helped her quit smoking immediately."
The price may seem high, the woman said, but it was worth it because it worked, whereas other methods she tried had failed.
A single session is enough to make 70 percent of the clients stop smoking, Shimada claimed, while another 25 percent kick the habit by the end of the program.
All therapy sessions begin with a talk on how smoking is unnecessary. Clients are then allowed to smoke one final cigarette, before they throw their packs into the trash and start their first hypnotherapy session.
In many cases clients cry during the sessions, which Shimada said are "tears of relief."
Shimada was a smoker until four years ago and she said she can relate to the suffering of her clients.
"The tobacco tax increase was a great opportunity to promote nonsmoking," she said.
According to the World Bank, the price elasticity of demand for tobacco in Japan is minus 0.4 -- which means that if the price of tobacco increased by 10 percent, 4 percent of consumers would stop buying cigarettes.
Akira Oshima, president of the Japan Medical-Dental Association for Tobacco Control, believes raising the tobacco tax even more is key to getting more people to kick the habit.
One of the association's aims is to get the government to hike the tax further to bring the price of cigarettes closer to European and American prices of between 800 yen and 900 yen a pack.
"Those who can't quit smoking should realize they are suffering nicotine addiction," Oshima said.
"Quitting the habit is beneficial for not only the smoker, but for their families and other people around them."
Tobacco makers are hoping to survive the growing antismoking movement here by introducing new products and services.
Japan Tobacco Inc., the third-largest maker of tobacco products in the world, aims to work with local governments to increase the number of smoking areas in Japan so smokers can light up in public without bothering nonsmokers.
The firm is promoting a new type of cigarette with less odor and will introduce vending machines with age-identification systems.
As a result of the last-minute buying prior to the tax increase, Tokyo-based JT posted a net profit of 76.25 billion yen for the April-June quarter, up from 47.52 billion yen the prior year. However, they are expecting a backlash in the next quarter.
"Sales volume was expected to decrease for about two weeks (after the tax increase) because most customers stocked up on their favorite cigarette brands," said JT spokesman Ryohei Sugata.
It is still unclear how the hike has affected the tobacco industry, but past price increases have caused a decline in sales.
After the last tax increase, in 2003, JT's annual sales fell by 10.7 billion cigarettes.
"Approximately 4 billion cigarettes of the total decrease (in 2003) were on account of the tax hike," Sugata said.
Ryoichi Sato believes phasing in tobacco-tax increases is harassment. He formed a prosmoking group in 2003 through the Internet.
Friends of Go Smoking says that if politicians were serious about stopping people from smoking they would make tobacco illegal. Sato believes the government is not interested in getting rid of smoking, it is only eyeing the money it can make off smokers.
"I don't understand why it's still legal to sell tobacco, if 100,000 people really die from smoking every year like the health ministry has reported," Sato said.
He doubts the reports that smoking poses health risks.
"It's clear that the government just wants to pick on the smokers by increasing the tobacco tax in increments," he said.
Sato, who has been smoking for 42 years and lights up 60 times a day, doesn't think of smoking as a serious addition.
"It's similar to the way coffee lovers crave coffee in the morning," he said. "Besides, if one makes decisions based solely on the benefits and virtues of things, he won't experience the pleasures of life."