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A year ago, we reported on the rising tide of interest and activity in tobacco control in Japan, set against the continuing reluctance of the government, majority owner of the world’s third largest tobacco company, to take effective action (see Tobacco Control 2003;12:8–10). We also noted the tragedy of Japan having to repeat the grim cycle of recruitment to smoking of its women, who until a mere quarter century ago were almost entirely non-smoking. It was in connection with smoking Japanese women and the desirability of their trying to quit, that a clever piece of commercial promotion swept briefly round the world last November. However, it was not directly focused on smoking cessation as such, but on a new range of underwear.
This is not the first time that Japanese women’s underwear has featured in these columns. Readers of our original piece will remember that in Japan, it is common practice for the advertising industry to use western models when promoting products for women that may be considered controversial or embarrassing within Japan’s strict cultural traditions, including both cigarettes and underwear. So it was a double surprise to learn that underwear manufacturer Triumph International had designed a range of lingerie designed to help women to stop smoking, and that it had chosen a model who, at least to western eyes, looked distinctly Japanese. The items of underwear, decorated with large no smoking signs and quite modest by western standards, were fitted with pads to contain the fragrances, and these, in an interesting example of Japanese design ingenuity, could apparently be detached and used as facemasks when desired.
The fact that the garments, containing herbal fragrances such as lavender and jasmine to help smokers quit and counteract tobacco odours, were not even for sale, and were called Manifesto in recognition of the then upcoming parliamentary elections, tells us that this was a highly opportunist piece of corporate promotion. But it tells us something else, too. As suggested above in the story about California, an important indication of the likely success of any aspect of tobacco control policy is the way society at large views the issue. So if Triumph’s ad agency reckoned that Japan is not only ready to see an ad of a young Japanese woman in her underclothes, but in general is supportive of the notion that she should be trying to stop smoking, it is surely another indication that at long last, tobacco control is gaining ground.