Health Minister proposes raising cigarette taxes

Minister for Health, Labor and Welfare Yoko Komiyama proposed Sept. 5 to raise taxes on cigarettes to help fund recovery from the March 11 disasters.

“Last year I proposed raising cigarette taxes by 100 yen a year,” the minister told a news conference. “We’ve got all sorts of data that shows we could raise taxes up to the 700 yen level before it would start to affect tax revenues, so I’d like to at least get that far.”

Burning cigarettes in the ashtray

Burning cigarettes in the ashtray

Cigarettes in Japan currently cost around 410 yen to 440 yen ($5.33 to $5.72) for a box of 20, making them the least expensive in the industrialized world.

Komiyama is the former secretariat head of the bipartisan Anti-Smoking Promotion League of Parliamentarians. She criticized Japan’s policy of having the Finance Ministry control tax revenues obtained from cigarettes.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “The Health Ministry should be in control to try and protect people’s health. I want to talk to those concerned about this.”

Komiyama may face opposition in her anti-smoking crusade from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. In July, while Finance Minister, Noda ruled out increasing taxes on cigarettes and liquor to help fund disaster recover, calling the suggestion a form of oyaji gyari, literally “old codger hunting,” as such a move would target mainly middle-aged men.

Japan raised taxes on cigarettes by about 30% in October last year by increasing the levy paid on each cigarette by 3.5 yen ($0.05).

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