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Tobacco’s Control of the Japanese Media

SNA (Tokyo) — Manabu Sakuta, Chairman of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control and a medical doctor, explains how the Japanese media is influenced by big money interests to downplay the health threat of cigarette smoking. Video footage by Michael Penn and Allan McIntyre.


Manabu Sakuta: Almost all of the key TV programs are sponsored by JT (Japan Tobacco), so they don’t even report tobacco-related incidents. Negative comments about tobacco are not allowed on TV. It is even a taboo subject on health programs. Dentsu always keeps a sharp eye on all forms of media. When they find an anti-tobacco item they react quickly and threaten to pull advertising from the media. JT doesn’t release its advertising spending figures, but it is said they spent about US$190 million in 2011. In 2014 that figure may have risen to US$270 million. A JT executive once told us the real figure is more in the range of US$730 million annually. In fact, we just don’t know.

JT’s annual sales are about US$18 billion and their annual operating profits are about US$7.3 billion. Usually such companies spend about 10% of their operating profits on advertising, so the mass media engages in self-censorship and the tobacco industry spreads fake information. The overall effect is to skew messages to the public. JT even claims on their homepage that the harm of tobacco is not yet scientifically established. The Smoking Research Foundation supports JT’s claim, but they receive almost US$5 million annually from JT. The National Cancer Center Japan has a very different view from their claim.

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