Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tobacco Harm Reduction Emerges in Japan
On March 17 Japan Tobacco, the dominant cigarette manufacturer in that country, announced the launch of a new smokeless tobacco product called “Zerostyle Mint”. As the picture shows, the product consists of a mouthpiece and a replaceable cartridge containing smokeless tobacco and flavorings.
The product appears to be a variation on smokeless tobacco, which in the U.S. and Sweden is placed inside the lip. In 2007 I participated in a tobacco harm reduction symposium held at the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo. I gave a lecture on the scientific foundation for tobacco harm reduction at that event, and I learned a lot about Japanese culture and tobacco use.
It is evident that harm reduction is an important concept for almost everyone in Japan, including smokers. Although Japanese health and policy experts are concerned about the health risks of smoking, they favor rational and reasonable solutions instead of policies driven by extremists. It’s an environment in which satisfying and safer cigarette alternatives are likely to be embraced.
But there are large cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. or Sweden. First, although smoking prevalence rates in Japan are fairly high, the Japanese tend to be very light smokers. This means that traditional Swedish and American smokeless products may be too strong for J apanese smokers. In addition, there is no tradition of using oral tobacco products in Japan, so it might be uncomfortable for smokers to use a traditional smokeless product, and even more uncomfortable for them to dispose of it.
Zerostyle Mint shows that tobacco harm reduction can take different forms in other cultures. The new offering from Japan Tobacco is a smokeless product, but it is not placed inside the mouth. Instead, the user puffs on the mouthpiece, which releases tobacco and nicotine flavor from the cartridge. It is definitely an innovative product that clearly meets harm reduction standards, and it might appeal to the esthetic preferences of Japanese consumers. The biggest question is: Will it succeed as a cigarette substitute?