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Smoking scenes in Japanese comics: a preliminary study
  1. S Nakahara,
  2. M Ichikawa,
  3. S Wakai
  1. Department of International Community Health, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Correspondence to:
 S Nakahara;

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Smoking repeatedly appears in the media including television,1 films,2,3 advertisements,4 and books,5 and may encourage early initiation of smoking by adolescents.6,7 Comics are another medium with influence over children and adolescents in many Asian countries. Most comics are imported from Japan where comic magazines sell several million copies every week. Popular titles become TV animation series or theatrical animated films. We examined depiction of smoking in popular comic magazines.

We selected the top four selling magazines according to monthly circulations from each of four categories (girls’, women’s, boys’, and youths’ magazines); data on sales and categorisation were derived from Japan’s periodicals in print.8 Magazines for primary to high school students were categorised as boys’ and girls’; those for young adults as youths’ and women’s. We selected four because the top four boys’ magazines sell several times more than the fifth one. A comic magazine carries about 20 titles of serialised stories.

For each magazine, we obtained the first issue published after 13 May 2002. Two coders independently examined the presence of tobacco related events, including smoking (getting out and holding an unlit tobacco product or packet; lighting, consuming, stubbing, and discarding a tobacco product), paraphernalia (ashtrays, and cigarette packets not held by smokers), and conversations about smoking; type of tobacco products; smoker characteristics (sex, estimated age, and role); and how smoking was depicted (negatively or neutrally). The first author decided the disagreements between the coders. Agreements on the presence of tobacco events, tobacco products and paraphernalia, smoker’ sex, role, and how smoking was depicted were 99.6%, 98.6%, 100%, 89.6%, and 97.2%, respectively. The first author assessed smoker age for consistency because its agreement by the coders was 76.5%. Smokers were considered to be teens only if clear indication of their age, such as being a high school student, was described. When two or more smokers were depicted in one panel, we counted each smoker as one depiction.

Tobacco events appeared in 10 of the 70 titles in girls’ comics, 22 of the 60 in women’s, 20 of the 87 in boys’, and 24 of the 85 in youths’; in 42 (0.6%) of the 7103 panels in girls’ comics, 97 (1.2%) of the 8170 in women’s, 105 (1.3%) of the 7835 in boys’, and 173 (2.7%) of the 6399 in youths’. Smoking appeared 396 times in 386 panels; paraphernalia and conversation about smoking appeared in 31.

Teenage smokers accounted for 17.6% and 6.1% of smoking depictions in boys’ and youths’ comics, respectively (table 1). Smokers in their 20s and 30s were likely to appear in women’s and youths’ comics. Female smokers were more likely to appear in women’s comics than in the three other types of comics. Smokers in youths’ comics were likely to be main characters. Smoking was rarely depicted negatively. The majority of tobacco products were cigarettes.

Table 1

 Proportion (95% confidence interval) of smoker characteristics by type of comic magazines

Given the circulations and varieties of comic magazines,8 young adults, adolescents, and children are frequently exposed to smoking scenes. This raises a concern that such exposures may enhance their smoking. We are likely to identify ourselves with characters of the same sex and age; teens with teen smokers in boys’ comics; young male adults with smokers of main characters in the 20s or 30s in youths’ comics; young women with female smokers in women’s comics. This may augment an increasing trend of smoking among teens and young women, and impede the decline of adult male smoking in Japan.9,10

Since Japanese comics are popular and circulations are increasing in many countries, we should notice and investigate the potential impacts of the exposure to smoking depiction in comics on changing behaviours.


We would like to thank Ms Shimoyama Ruriko and Ms Ito tomomi for supporting data collection.

S Nakahara contributed to the study design, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. M Ichikawa contributed to the study design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. S Wakai contributed to the design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation.