"Smoking used to control the ageing population?"

Recently the Japanese media have been all over the controversial proposal to raise the cost of tobacco in Japan, from ¥300 to ¥1,000.

This is an idea that has been bouncing around for a few years, but the new angle is that the economics department of Kyoto University’s graduate school announced the results of research it conducted on the tax yields for such an increase.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, for 2008 estimated tax yields are around ¥2.2trillion. If the price was raised to ¥1,000, simple calculations estimate the tax yields to rise to ¥9trillion.

However, the researchers are unsure as to the actual amount of people who will be able to give up smoking. In the past, they estimated that up to 97% of smokers would intend to give up if the price of tobacco rises to ¥1,000, but now, they think the number may only be 54%—the same as the amount of smokers intending to give up now. And we all know what happens to good intentions. Nevertheless, if 54% did give up, tax yields will only increase to ¥3trillion. On the other hand, if 97% all successfully quit smoking, tax yields could fall as low as ¥1.9trillion.

Asahi Shimbun Article 1(Japanese):

Another article by the Asahi Shimbun, published on May 31, focuses more on the debate of smoking, rather than the tax yields.

One of the strongest arguments for raising the price is to prevent minors from purchasing cigarettes. Another argument is that by reducing smokers, less burden will be placed on the state’s medical expenditure.

However, criticism of the tax hike is also offered, the article stating that some view the recent banning of smoking in taxis and on the pavements as ‘anti-smoking fascism.’ A physician and author of the book ‘Cigarettes are a gift from God’ is quoted as saying “I wonder if the anti-smoking policies, improving the health of people and reducing medical expenditure will really happen? If cigarettes are that harmful, then people’s lifespan will increase, therefore there will be more older people who will place a burden on the medical system.”

Sometimes, it seems unbelievable that people like this exist. What’s more, that a respectable newspaper will actually print their views as an expert opinion. Essentially, the (dare I say it) physician is denying that smoking has an impact on people’s health and then he’s going further by suggesting that it’s a good thing that people die young from smoking, as reducing lifespan is a positive thing for the ageing population of Japan.

Perhaps he has a point. But perhaps he is also just a crazy doctor who reduces the level of an otherwise valid tobacco tolerance argument.

Asahi Shimbun Article (Japanese):

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