Japan FY2020 cigarette sales down due to switch to vaping amid pandemic


Japan’s cigarette sales fell below 100 billion in fiscal 2020 for the first time in decades as more smokers appeared to opt to use heated tobacco products while teleworking spread due to the coronavirus pandemic, industry data showed.

In the year that ended in March, sales of rolled tobacco products fell a record 16.3 percent year over year to 98.8 billion sticks, the lowest level since fiscal 1990 when comparable data became available, according to the Tobacco Institute of Japan.

The accompanying photo shows the new “Ploom X” cigarette product from Japan Tobacco Inc., which is due to go on sale this summer. (Kyodo)

This number represents a decrease of more than 70 percent compared to fiscal 1996, when sales peaked at 348.3 billion cigarettes.

In Japan, adult smoking rates have decreased in recent years, reflecting health concerns, according to a survey by the Ministry of Health.

In 2019, 27.1 percent of men and 7.6 percent of women smoked regularly, compared with 29.0 percent and 8.1 percent in the previous year, the survey found.

Heat-not-burn cigarettes that do not smoke have been enjoying nationwide popularity since around 2016, especially among the younger generation.

Sales of such heated tobacco products amounted to 41.3 billion sticks in Japan in fiscal year 2020, which corresponds to about 40 percent of the sales of rolled cigarettes.

Such products are an electronic device that heats tobacco leaves in a stick and the user inhales the generated vapor instead of smoke. It is considered odorless and reduces the risk of fire.

“With the spread of the coronavirus, there have been more opportunities to smoke at home,” said an industry representative, adding that such people are turning to heat-non-burning cigarettes due to a reluctance to expel smoke in their homes or balconies turned around.

It has also become difficult for smokers to light cigarettes outside of their homes after the revised Health Promotion Act went fully into effect last April and banned people from smoking indoors, including government buildings, restaurants, hotel lobbies and workplaces.

Amid the stricter rules for smokers, manufacturers are also focusing on heat-resistant cigarettes.

The Japanese branch of US tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc. said it plans to end rolled cigarette sales in Japan within 10 to 15 years.

Rival Japan Tobacco Inc., which saw declines in sales and profits for the fiscal year ended December due to the slump in rolled tobacco sales, hopes to restore its performance with the launch of its new flagship heated cigarette product this summer.

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