Smoking Alternatives in Japan for World No Tobacco Day

ByMark Guthrie
Apr 23, 2018

Smoking Alternatives in Japan for World No Tobacco Day

While in some areas such as AI, robotics and technology Japan is considered very much an advanced nation, there are some areas in which the country remains in the dark ages.

A prime example of this is its attitude towards smoking. While in much of the developed world, lighting up in a restaurant or bar will have you frogmarched into the street and hung drawn and quartered, in Japan it is not unusual to see diners happily puffing away between bites of fried chicken and swig of highballs.

This can be pretty shocking for most westerners, even for the smokers amongst us. And while some smokers may feel it a relief from the ostracization they face in their homelands, others may find that that your cigarette consumption goes up dramatically, and you have increased concerns for your health leading to you to want to quit.

So, if you want to give up smoking, why not do so on May 31?  World No Tobacco Day is a day dedicated to highlighting the health and other risks associated with tobacco use, and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption, which makes it a perfect time to kick the habit.

Of course, giving up cold turkey can be pretty tough, so there are various other ways of doing it. Here are a few options for doing so in Japan.


Overwhelmingly the most popular cigarette substitute in Japan, you have probably seen these semi-vaping machines everywhere. According to Philip Morris International “IQOS are sophisticated electronics that heat specially designed heated tobacco units. IQOS heats the tobacco just enough to release a flavorful nicotine-containing vapor but without burning the tobacco.” PMI claims that this heating of miniature tobacco sticks are 95 per cent better for you than the burning of cigarettes.

Personally, as someone who has quit multiple times but gone back to smoking because I missed the taste and the action more than the nicotine, this is the choice that I indulge in, as I find that it has the advantage of tasting like tobacco as well as giving that smoking action that many quitters miss. On top of that, there is no ash, very little smell, and as charging of the aperatus is required between smokes, chain-smoking is minimised.

There are downsides to IQOS, in that it does nothing to help you quit the addictive nicotine, just replacing one addiction for another. Also, it can still be pretty expensive, as the machines can cost upwards of 10,000 JPY, and at 460 JPY the packs of heat sticks are about the same as cigarettes. Additionally, there have been claims that PMI’s assertion of safety is not quite what it’s cracked up to be, but why would tobacco manufacturers lie, right?


While becoming the cigarette substitute of choice around much of the world, e-cigarettes haven’t really taken off in Japan.

The smoking of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, is inhalation of nicotine infused, flavored ‘e-juice’, that replaces the action of smoking, without many of the health concerns. While the WHO and US medical associations have said that there is not enough evidence as to the health benefits of e-cigarettes, Public Health England stated that e-cigarettes are estimated to be 95% less harmful than smoking. Personally, I couldn’t get on with e-cigarettes, as I found the vapor made me cough, and the oils were often sickly sweet, however friends of mine love them, and my uncle was able to quit his three pack a day habit thanks to vaping.

But if they can be this successful, why aren’t e-cigarettes more popular in Japan? Well, the reason most probably is that in Japan, the vaping oil is nicotine-free. This means that while the smoking action fix is covererd, that nicotine buzz is not there.

However, there are plenty of vaping shops around (and here are a few in Tokyo) if you are interested, and it is possible to order e-juice with nicotine online, though it is in relatively small quanitites.

Patches and gum

Nicotine gum (ニコチンガム, nikochin gamu) and nicotine patches (ニコチンパッチ, nikochin patchi) have long been the staple of those finding it tough to quit smoking cold turkey. These can be found in most pharmacies over the counter. The most popular brand of gum is probably Nicorette, which in 2001 was the first nicotine gum sold OTC in Japan, and Nicotinell is pretty much the main form of patch. 90 pieces of gum will set you back somewhere in the region of 6,000 JPY 14 patches will be around 4,000 JPY in pharmacies, but you may find them for less on Amazon.

If you are not sure what brands of gum or patch you want, tell your pharmacist ‘I want to quit smoking’ (タバコをやめたい Tabako o yametai) and they should be able to help.

Rien Pipe

The Rien Pipe is a collection of 31 filters that you add to the end of your cigarette, each one 3 per cent stronger than the last. The idea is that over 31 days, you gradually ween yourself off of nicotine, and at the end of the month you may be craving free. However, the Rien Pipe is something that I have only ever seen in Japan, and as I have only found articles that are actively promoting it through sales, rather than objective pieces, it’s pretty difficult to tell the veracity of the claims. As such, I can’t really tell how good a recommendation this is, but it is an option.

Your Doctor

By far and away the best choice for those wanting to give up smoking is to speak to your doctor. There are plenty of English speaking doctors in Japan (here is a list for some in Nagoya and Tokyo) and they will be able to give you the best medical advice and options for quitting smoking.

Good luck!

*Please bear in mind that this article is for information only, and the options given are informed by personal opinions and experience of the writer who has no medical training. For definitive and accurate information on this matter please consult a medical professional. Furthermore, the opinions espoused are those of the writer and not necessarily JIS as an organization.


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About the author

Mark Guthrie editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Mark whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves. Find some more of his musings at and on instagram @markguthriewrites