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How Japan beat the Old Scourge

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. – Up in the Air

The Japanese are a resolute people.

When they set goals, they strive to achieve it at any and all costs – and just in time, if not much earlier.

Such sense of punctuality is hard-wired into their collective mindset and is generally credited for Japan’s inexorable rise not only as a regional giant but a global economic power.

Relentless innovation and industrialization are the main engines of this economic overdrive which continues to this day.

But industries don’t operate on their own even with the convergence of automation and robotics.

People are still needed behind the controls.

Alas, Japan has been experiencing a slowdown if not a steady decline in population growth in recent times.

The current population is 126,180,983 as of April 6, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. This is equivalent to 1.62 percent of the total world population but a decline of 0.34 percent from 2020.

Last year, its population is estimated at 126,476,461 people at mid-year, a decline of 0.30 percent from 2019.

In 2020, its population growth rate was -0.32 percent, a gradual but consistent decline from 1.43 percent in 1971.

In 2019, it was 126,860,301, a 0.27-percent decline from 2018’s 127,202,192, also 0.24-percent decline from 2017.

Quite decidedly, this downtrend does not augur well for the country’s economic prospects as its labor force replenishment suffers.

Throw in serious public health and safety concerns, and the demographic portrait is even less prettier.

That’s why the Japanese government mounted an intensive and massive campaign to discourage unhealthy lifestyle among its citizenry.

Globally, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of premature mortality, with more than seven million people dying of smoking-related diseases each year.

Until recently, the Japanese were historically ferocious smokers.

The government campaign yielded a stunning reversal.

A public health expert acknowledged Japan’s success in cutting smoking rate by nearly a third in a span of just three to four years following the introduction of non-combustible alternatives to cigarettes in 2014.

Dr. Kumamaru Hiroya, the vice director of the AOI Universal Hospital in Kawasaki, said cigarette smoking in Japan declined by 30 percent with the introduction of heated tobacco products, something that nicotine replacement therapy failed to accomplish.

Hiroya said the launch of HTPs like IQOS from Philip Morris International in 2014, following a market test in 2013, led to a substantial decrease in smoking rate over the next three to four years.

Japan is now the world’s largest HTP market.

“In conclusion, after nicotine replacement therapy direction has been tried, they were not really a big success. However, ever since 2014, three heated tobacco products have been launched officially nationwide in Japan and these have been penetrating 25 percent [of total smoking population], and this product has been successful to reduce cigarette smoking in Japan so far by 30 percent in three to four years,” Hiroya, a preventive physician specializing in smoking cessation, said during a webinar organized by business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan on December 7 last year.

The webinar titled Tobacco Harm Reduction and Novel Nicotine and Tobacco Products-Evidence from the Japanese Market focused on domestic market developments following the launch of novel nicotine and tobacco products, specifically HTPs in Japan since 2014. The event was moderated by Yvonne Lucas of Frost & Sullivan.

Hiroya noted that HTP users account for about 30 percent among Japanese male smokers and 25 percent among female smokers. He said dual use of cigarettes and HTPs remains low at 6.9 percent among male smokers and 4.8 percent among female smokers.

A study by Tottori University Medical School funded by Ministry of Health and Welfare also showed that the initiation to HTP use among 60,000 Japanese junior high school students was very low at just 0.1 percent belying fears of youth uptake.

Mark Dougan, director of Transformational Health at Frost & Sullivan, said the case of Japan, being the world’s largest market of HTPs, deserves to be studied because of the significant reduction in smoking rate in the country.

“The reason we’re focusing on the Japanese market is because NNTPs have been commercially available in Japan since 2014. It’s by far the world’s largest market, and they put it to be commercially available now for seven years,” Dougan said.

Over the past 15 years, a range of NNTPs have emerged with e-cigarettes first commercially introduced in 2004