TOKYO -- Fewer Japanese are puffing cigarettes, a survey by the health ministry shows, suggesting that a greater awareness of the risks associated with lighting up is changing a country once regarded as a smoker's paradise.
The smoking rate fell below 20% for the first time, with only 19.8% of adults reported smoking daily or on some days in the health ministry's 2016 survey published Tuesday, down 1.8 percentage points from 2013. The ministry interprets the decline as a sign that the Japanese public is giving greater thought to lung cancer and other health concerns.
Both genders recorded a decrease. The rate of male smokers fell 2.6 points to 31.1%, while smoking among women declined 1.2 points to 9.5%.
Cigarette smoking is most prevalent among men and women in their 30s and 40s, the survey found. The biggest decline compared with 15 years ago occurred among people in their 20s.
The health ministry seeks new restrictions on lighting up before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Proposals for such curbs also feature prominently in the campaign for Sunday's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.