TOKYO (Dow Jones)--The percentage of smokers in Japan has fallen for the 15th straight year and set a new record low, the results of a nationwide survey released Wednesday by Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914.TO) showed.
In the annual survey, conducted in May by the world's third-largest tobacco producer by volume, 23.9% of respondents said they considered themselves to be smokers. The result is lower than last year's figure of 24.9%, and marks the lowest level since the company, known as JT, started compiling such data in 1965.
Japan has long been considered a smokers' haven, with smoking rates once reaching as high as 49.4% in 1966. But the number of smokers has since declined gradually, due in part to an aging population, increased health consciousness and more stringent smoking regulations.
Faced with a shrinking domestic market, JT is trying to capture a greater share of growing overseas markets such as Russia and the Middle East. In 2007, the Japanese firm spent GBP7.5 billion to acquire U.K. tobacco maker Gallaher Group PLC. JT is also seeking to diversify its sources of revenue to food and pharmaceuticals.
This year's survey showed that the smoking rate among Japanese men declined to 36.6% from 38.9% in the previous year, while the rate among women slightly increased 12.1% from 11.9%.
The JT questionnaire was mailed to 32,000 adult men and women, of which 20,631, or 64%, responded.