Hemp as a "drug"
Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?
In the 16th century the habit of smoking tobacco was introduced into Japan
by Portuguese traders. Smoking was prohibited in 1603 but the law was
ignored. Stricter laws followed in 1607 and 1609, making cultivation
of tobacco illegal. Property of tobacco sellers could be confiscated.
At least 150 people were arrested in 1614 for buying and selling it.
Despite the harsh penalties the ban against tobacco proved unenforcable.
When the shogun's own soldiers were found to be smoking it, the shogun
realized that prohibition doesn't work. The ban was revoked in 1625.
Since then tobacco has been a legal drug that is taxed for public revenue.
G.A.Austin: Perspectives on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use
The average cigarette consumption in Japan in 1996 was 2669 cigarettes
for every man, woman and child in the country, second only to Greece. 
The one third of the Japanese population that smokes buys 900 million
cigarettes every day, making Japan the third largest tobacco market
in the world after China and the US.
Between 50-60% of Japanese men are smokers,
one of the highest rates in the world. While other countries have steeply increased
tobacco taxes to encourage smokers to stop, in Japan a pack of 20 cigarettes
still only costs 230-260 yen, the lowest price amongst major industrialized
The smoking habit has made major inroads among Japan's
young adults. Of those in their 20s, 60.9% of men and
16.9% of women smoke, higher rates than among any other
10-year age span.
Of male smokers ages 20-29:
6% smoke more than 2 packs a day,
65% 1-2 packs a day,
29% less than 1 pack a day
Of female smokers ages 20-29:
1% smoke more than 2 packs a day,
35% 1-2 packs a day,
64% less than 1 pack a day.
Source: Japanese Ministry of Health
Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1997
Children and adolescents can buy cigarettes from automatic vending machines
that can perform no age check, even though selling cigarettes to
minors is against the law. 360 million cigarettes a day are sold
from unattended vending machines. The vast majority of smokers get
started before the age of 19. There are an estimated 924,000 under-age
tobacco smokers who are illegaly sold cigarettes. A study by the Ministry
of Health and Welfare suggested that according to WHO criteria 18 million
Japanese are drug-dependent on nicotine, 54% of all Japanese smokers.
Cigarette packs only carry the following mild warning: "Be careful of
how much you smoke such as not to damage your health". Unlike in Europe
or the USA no mention of cancer or other fatal diseases is made,
even though the risk of developing lung cancer is ten times higher
for smokers than for non-smokers and some 80% of lung cancer victims
are smokers or former smokers. Efforts by the Ministry of Health and
Welfare to strengthen warnings were defeated due to stiff resistance by
the powerful Ministry of Finance.
In the past the leading cause of death from cancer in Japan has
always been stomach cancer. In 1989 about 49,000 Japanese died
from stomach cancer versus 36,000 from lung cancer. Since then
stomach cancer deaths increased only marginally but lung cancer
deaths have been rising steadily, at a rate of an extra 1500
deaths every year. In 1998 there were 50,477 deaths from stomach
cancer but 50,460 deaths from lung cancer. 
The steadily increasing lung cancer death rate is the long-term
effect of the steep increase in smoking that occured amongst
Japanese men in the 1960s, when cigarette smoking gained popularity
amongst increasingly wealthy Japanese. It is expected that lung cancer will be the
leading cause of cancer deaths in Japan by the year 2000, and
lung cancer is not the only type of cancer caused by cigarette
smoking. Furthermore, figures from other countries suggest that
cardiovascular diseases caused by cigarette smoking kill three
to four times as many smokers as smoking-induced cancer.
A recent panel by the Ministry of Health and Welfare to study the
problem included four representatives of the tobacco industry.
This is because in Japan tobacco really does not falls into the
domain of the Ministry of Health and Welfare but the Ministry of
Finance, which by law must own 67% of all shares of Japan Tobacco
(JT). JT holds about 80% of the domestic market.
Until April 1998 tobacco advertising continued on Japanese television,
even though in the USA cigarette commercials on broadcast TV were
banned as early as 1971. In Japan it is still technically legal
and JT still advertises on TV, but without showing cigarettes or
mentioning any of its brands. Japan Tobacco sells one in every
twenty cigarette packs worldwide and its Mild Seven
was the second best selling cigarette brand worldwide, outsold only
by Marlboro by Philip Morris. Tobacco taxes from annual sales
of about ¥ 4 trillion (about US$30 billion) provide for about 1%
of all public revenue. While smokers are addicted to nicotine,
politicians are addicted to money. Former health minister and
prime minister Hashimoto, himself a chain-smoker, once publicly
stated that he smokes "as much as possible without damaging my health"
because tobacco taxes are an important source of public revenue.
Few Japanese restaurants are separated into smoking and no-smoking
zones. Smoking is common even in many hospitals. In the offices of
the Ministry of Health and Welfare smoking is only banned on the
annual international no-smoking day. A few years ago a
motion at IATA to ban smoking on all flights worldwide was killed
by Japanese opposition. Smoking was not banned
on international flights operated by JAL and ANA until April 1, 1999.
Little protection for non-smokers
A 1997 study published by the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry
puts the bill for smoking related costs at close to ¥ 4 trillion
a year. The ministry, long powerless in its battle on smoking policy
against the Ministry of Finance, has come up with this study in order
to demonstrate that even in financial terms it does not make sense
to promote smoking.
According to the study medical costs account for more than a
quarter of this amount. The study estimates medical costs for
those aged 40 or over who have suffered illness through smoking.
It also estimates loss of income due to people in the same age
group dying through diseases caused by smoking.
The estimates are based on the ministry's fiscal 1993 survey of
patients, which includes factors such as the number of days patients
were hospitalized. The study covers eight types of smoking-related
diseases, including cancer, cerebral paralysis and heart disease.
The study estimates the percentage of diseases caused by smoking
and their medical costs, using data comparing smokers and nonsmokers.
For example, it shows that 20.6 percent of cancers are linked to
smoking, the costs of which reach ¥326.7 billion annually, and
18.7 percent of hypertension-related diseases are traced to smoking,
the costs of which reach ¥297.8 billion annually. The total
medical costs of diseases caused by smoking amount to ¥1.224
trillion. National income lost due to death through diseases caused
by smoking amounts to ¥2.63 trillion, including future income loss.
Smoking costs society a total of ¥3.907 trillion, according to the
study. A ministry official in charge of community public health and
health promotion said that loss of national income due to smoking means
loss of tax revenues, and the percentage of medical costs caused by
smoking out of the total annual medical expenditure is not small.
"I would like smokers to be conscious that smoking not only affects
the smoker and his or her family but also society as a whole," the
see Japan Times
November 4, 1997
The USA is not only a major tobacco producer and exporter, it is also
a major consumer and the problems caused by smoking have been studied
there for a long time. Tobacco is easily the biggest killer in that
country as its effects kill about as many Americans every week as all
illegal drugs combined in an entire year. Tobacco-related diseases
kill some 400,000 Americans per year, 1000 every day. Though the health
effects of tobacco also depend on people's diet and genetics, this
should nevertheless give us an idea of the magnitude of the problem
in Japan, which has 47% of the population of the USA but smokes 69% of
the number of cigarettes smoked in the USA. It is not unreasonable to
assume that around 200,000 Japanese per year may die from the effects
of smoking tobacco. Getting people to cut down on smoking would have
a far bigger effect on public health than any other change in the
Japanese drugs policy.
Cigarette smoking in Japan and the USA
The United States expects Japan to follow its drug prohibition and
enforcement policy ("War on Drugs") but its own priorities are
misdirected too. In the US 98% of all drug deaths are from
legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Despite this, while
the US federal government spends $17 billion per year on measures
targeting illegal drugs, only a tiny fraction of that amount
is used to combat problems caused by alcohol and tobacco. It spends
as little as $1 million per year on anti-smoking campaigns,
versus the $4 billion advertising budget of the tobacco industry.
Money spent on arresting drug users should be used on educating
the public about the risks of all drugs, including tobacco and alcohol,
as well as about other health issues such as a healthy diet and
getting enough exercise.
Marijuana smoke vs. Tobacco smoke.
33.6 million Japanese smoke
JT tobacco giveaway on Aged Day
New Scientist: The lesser of two evils
Airlines OK cockpit smoking
 See Wall Street Journal, June 23, 1997, page B1
 Asahi Shimbun, April 3, 1999
Hemp as a "drug"
Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?