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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008

Cigarette price of ¥1,000 a pack would save 190,000 lives, health studies say

Staff writer

Cigarettes should cost at least ¥1,000 to discourage young people from smoking — a price that would also help sharply reduce deaths caused by the public nuisance, according to two research groups funded by the health ministry.

The reports, released earlier this month, came as a group of lawmakers discuss a tobacco tax hike that would more than double cigarette prices to above ¥600 a pack. A pack usually sells for about ¥300.

The group led by Takashi Ohida, public health professor at Nihon University's school of medicine, surveyed more than 90,000 junior high and high school students nationwide last fiscal year and asked them how much high cigarette prices would have to be to prevent them from smoking.

Of the 90,039 respondents, 33,918 said they wouldn't begin smoking if a pack cost ¥1,500. But almost half, or 44,556 students, said they wouldn't begin smoking if the price was ¥1,000 and more.

Hiking cigarette prices is also expected to reduce related deaths, especially if it is assumed that medical treatment will be provided to help people quit smoking and that smokers will seek it out, according to another study led by Kota Katanoda, a scientist at the National Cancer Center.

Katanoda's group examined the links between tobacco prices and availability of medical treatment, and estimated the death tolls for people aged between 40 and 79 between 2007 and 2026.

The study is aimed at showing how many deaths can be prevented in the period if cigarettes are priced at ¥500, ¥700 and ¥1,000 per pack. Using large followup studies of healthy people, the group estimated that 27.8 percent of the men and 6.7 percent of the women would die from smoking.

According to the group's calculations, if tobacco prices were set at ¥1,000 a pack and 46 percent of smokers who completed medical treatment succeeded in quitting, 195,000 deaths would be preventable in the 20-year period.

Even if tobacco prices were set at ¥500 under the same conditions, 65,000 deaths would be preventable, the estimate shows.

When prices are ¥1,000, however, only 13 percent of smokers would succeed in quitting because it is assumed they will not seek medical help. This could limit the number of preventable deaths to 49,000, the group said.

"Although the hike in tobacco prices can offer chances for many smokers to quit smoking, we cannot expect a high rate of success in making them nonsmokers if they don't receive proper medical treatment," the researchers said.

To help smokers quit, "it is also important to develop a proper social environment, such as (by) making public places and offices nonsmoking, and restricting or prohibiting (cigarette) advertisements or vending machines," the group said.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the lawmakers discussing the tobacco price hike were trying to find an ideal price that would simultaneously increase revenue from smokers while keeping them hooked to prevent the industry from taking losses.

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