Japan Research and Analysis
through Internet Information

by Yasuharu Dando

The U.S.-Japan Gap in Attitude Towards Smoking
(Japanese edition:1999/06/03)

Tobacco commercials disappeared from the TV screen in the spring of 1998. The troublesome commercial was finally banned from the domestic scene after several delays. However, it remains in newspapers and magazines.

In the recent years, the anti-smoking campaign in the U.S. has become very intense. In March 1997 a damage suit reached a compromise where the Liggett group, known for its Lark brand, admitted for the first time that "cigarettes are toxic and cause such health problems as lung cancer and heart disease." They are to pay $25 million as a initial payment plus 25 percent of their annual before-tax profit for the next 25 years to the claimant of 22 state governments.

In November 1998, thirty-nine of all U.S. state governments and a patient group won a lawsuit against a tobacco company, which in turn accepted the reconciliatory proposal to pay 25 trillion yen over the next 25 years and agreed to more stringent regulation of their advertisements. The proposal also suggested establishment of an "Anti-Smoking Foundation" for the purpose of publicizing the risk of smoking.

In Japan, where there is practically no movement against smoking at all, at last a "cigarette sickness suit" was filed against Japan Tobacco (JT) and Ministry of Finance (MOF) which demanded 10 million yen as token payment for total damages of 100 million yen to each claimant who suffered from lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and lung emphysema. The reason why MOF was sued was because JT was once a government monopoly. They are now being attacked in court for keeping the lid on the toxicity of cigarettes.

Powerful Evidence: "The Cigarette Papers"

The responsibility for damage compensation arises when a party neglects to exercise due care and attention or when they are party to an unlawful act. The American tobacco companies were being blamed for continuing to sell cigarettes while suppressing the evidence of toxicity, something of which they were already aware. "The Cigarette Papers" is the powerful evidence which revealed the fact that the tobacco companies had already investigated nicotinism and the large volume of carcinogen in passive smoke while continuing to deny such accusations. It all started when Dr. Glantz of California University, well known researcher for the fight against tobacco, received a copy of the 4,000 page document from an anonymous sender in May of 1994.

Since the documents are not open to the public due to copyright, I would like to quote the following from Mr. Bill Totten's story in Our World-No. 60:

"The documents ... represented a smoking gun in the debate over the effects of tobacco on health. They showed that 'thirty years ago the tobacco industry knew that nicotine was an addictive substance and that it caused cancer. And it showed that they withheld this information from the public.' That's significant particularly in view of the Congressional testimony by the C.E.O.s of the seven biggest tobacco companies, all of whom had sworn a month earlier that they didn't believe cigarettes were addictive or caused cancer."

Dr. Glantz decided to store the Cigarette Papers in the university library, but so many people wanted access that queues formed in front of the library. In response, the deputy director of the library came up with the solution of publishing the papers on a CD-ROM and the Web so that the documents would be protected and accessible to everyone. "That decision ... transformed the case."


Selling An Addictive Drug

Nicotine and Addiction indicates that in the early 60's the tobacco companies had already laid the internal groundwork for explanation of toxicity through pharmacological experiments. The following is the punch line of the report with technicalities omitted.

"The hypothalamo-pituitary stimulation of nicotine is the beneficial mechanism which makes people smoke; in other words, nicotine helps people to cope with stress. In the beginning of nicotine consumption, relatively small doses can perform the desired action. Chronic intake of nicotine tends to restore normal physiological functioning ... so that ever-increasing dose levels of nicotine are necessary to maintain the desired action. Unlike other drugs, such as morphine, the demand for increasing dose levels is relatively slow for nicotine." The article goes on to explain the effect of prohibiting nicotine intake to chronic smokers.

One very notable memo even mentioned this: "Moreover, nicotine is addictive ... We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug effective in the release of stress mechanisms." This is a deed of a death merchant!

A study conducted by Dr. Yu Hirayama, a famous Japanese researcher, appears in Environmental Tobacco Smoke where it discusses the effects of passive smoking:

"In 1981, Hirayama published a study in the British Medical Journal suggesting that passive smoking can cause lung cancer in non-smokers. Hirayama's findings received international attention. The tobacco industry responded by launching a public relations campaign to discredit Hirayama's work. His criticisms were not published in the British Medical Journal, where Hirayama would have had a chance to respond. Instead, a Tobacco Institute press release criticized Hirayama's methodology, which was widely covered in the press. The Tobacco Institute also reprinted several of these critical news articles as full-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines nation-wide."

The following is a recording of a phone conversation made between the top tobacco company executives concerning the Hirayama matter. "... Hirayama is correct and TI [Tobacco Institute] is wrong ... New data has been received from Japan which confirms the Hirayama work."

Yet until today, the tobacco industry and its consultants "have maintained a unified public position that Hirayama's study was flawed and that the health hazards of passive smoking have not been proven."

The Ongoing Strange Movements in the Domestic Scene

The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOH) seems to have taken a step towards the prohibition of smoking. In their white paper of 1997, they included a chapter entitled "The Close Connection Between Smoking and Many Types of Cancer" in which they stated "the risk of all types of cancer for smokers is 1.65 times as high as that of non-smokers, and the risk of all causes of death for smokers 1.29 times that of non-smokers." However, when we look at "the shift in smoking rate and the sales of cigarettes" the once-declining smoking rate suddenly rallies in 1995 (50% for male and 10% for female). While there are various statistical data of smoking rates such as those of JT and those on the Web, the result of this survey should be deemed trustworthy because it was taken from a national nutrition survey. Unfortunately, the white paper has disappeared from the MOH Web server, probably because the data became obsolete. I have hard time understanding the nerve of these people who deleted a perfectly meaningful report, not so significantly large in volume.

Concerning children, "Underage Smoking" indicated that smoking is pronounced for junior high school students. According to the chapter, 10 percent of high school freshmen smoke. WHO's "Regional Smoking Rate" indicated that even compared to the world, Japanese males smoke too much. According to WHO Estimate (Japan), the number of deaths caused by smoking in 1995 was 95,000 (male 76, 000 and female 19, 000). It says that the figure has doubled in 20 years.

For me, it seems the Ministry's "Tobacco Action Program" is no more than a government excuse saying "at least we are fulfilling our responsibility of exercising due care." Their attitude is so disappointing, stating in their summary of The Investigative Commission of Measures Against Smoking in the 21st Century, that "this commission is not suitable for the academic argument over the causal relation between smoking and hazards to health." It seems like it is quite ineffectual to take measures against smoking in Japan, in a country where Tobacco Industry Law states that it aims to "invest in a sound development of Japanese tobacco industry which would ensure a sound development of steady revenue and public relief for the entire nation. "

In contrast, the Clinton Administration announced the regulation of smoking, acknowledging that "nicotine is an addictive drug." The administration is also putting strong pressure on tobacco companies in order to eliminate underage smoking. What makes them so eager? Before he took office, Clinton was said to have been more tolerant towards smoking. I suppose that Clinton, who has initiated reform on the medical insurance system - which remains undone because of many obstacles - considers reduction of the smoking rate an absolute must, because it would help in the reduction of both patient and medical costs. If this is true, the bullying of tobacco companies is limited to a domestic matter for the U.S.

Michael Hudson's work, The Irresponsibility of Companies Asking for Abolishment of Legal Regulation, indicates that this is indeed a logical conclusion:

"Lately, tobacco companies has been nailed to the wall within the U.S. society. I wonder why Japan's been so silent towards this. The U.S. government provides subsidies to the tobacco companies in a form of "foreign aid" which is against international law. Yet those subsidies enable them to dump overseas. The U.S. government supports the tobacco companies because they have been bought off by the Tobacco lobby. These facts are public knowledge, and yet, Japan who has privatized the monopolizing Tobacco Corporation reduced the tariff on U.S. tobacco products to let them sell at a low price. Don't they realize that this is fostering the negative influence of smoking on Japanese society?"

In March 1999, JT acquired Nabisco's Overseas Tobacco Project department for $7.8 billion. This makes JT the third largest tobacco company in the world. It was a largest take-over done by a Japanese company, where JT self-funded the approx. 950 billion yen from its internal reserve. For me, this reserve could only be deemed to be made of "the bodies that lay in heaps." It is said that the annual sales of the department is about 350 billion yen. In a sense, JT has made a bad bargain and Nabisco succeeded in getting rid of its burden by selling it off.

In any case, as it said in This Week's Comment, "It is obvious that smoking is harmful to our health, and above all, it is making non-smokers suffer. So a worldwide anti-smoking campaign is very probable and eminent. It would be one of the mainstream movements of the world ... I can't help myself from doubting the intelligence of JT, which represents the Japanese corporate world, who has just made this purchase under the current social trend and business circumstances."

(special thanks to translation by j-watch)

New!! Oct 2003---"Japanese People Who Don't Grow out of Dependency on Tobacco"

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