Last chance for cheap smokes

September 24th, 2010 by Sandra Barron

Red Bull and smokes

Buy today or pay the price tomorrow

To smokers in some Western countries, Tokyo’s looming all-time-high tax hike is a pittance – with prices increasing by ¥110 to ¥140, cigarettes here will still cost less than half as much as in New York or London. But everything’s relative, and an increase from ¥300 to over ¥400 has smokers planning strategies and convenience stores cashing in.

For years, single or double packs of cigarettes have come packaged with trinkets, from directly useful products like lighters and pocket ashtrays to more tangential goodies like sparkly makeup mirrors and canned coffee. (What’s that? You wish someone had compiled a site with photos of all the trinkets that come packaged with Japanese cigarettes for the last 10 years, sortable by brand or by type of giveaway? Done. ) Now some cartons, packs of 10 boxes, come with tote bags (buy three boxes, get a bag), the better to haul the goods home with. And people are stocking up. Convenience store cigarette sales this month have been double the sales of last September, according to Jiji Press. At Lawson, some 30% of cigarette sales have been in cartons. Signs for advance orders of cartons are ubiquitous at tobacco shops, convenience stores and even supermarkets. Orders made before the end of September will be charged at the pre-hike price, even if the cigarettes are picked up after the beginning of October.

There seems to be increased interest lately on Internet message board, too, in private importers like and Gala Store.  However,  people buying through these sites seem to have had varying levels of satisfaction with the buying experience, with some having to pay tax on delivery.

Lawmakers say the purpose of the increase, and future increases already being eyed, is to reduce the number of smokers and cut down on the 100,000 deaths caused by smoking each year in Japan. While anecdotally some people are saying this increase is enough to prompt them to quit, some are taking a different tack: Kyodo News quoted an economist as saying he’d stockpiled 1,000 packs already.

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