Newport, Queensland (AFP) – Japanese cigarette makers have promised to roll out the world’s first fully electronic cigarette by the end of 2020.
But the move has been greeted with scepticism in some quarters in the West, with a leading global e-cigarette brand warning that it is a “ludicrously ambitious target” that could put Japanese consumers at risk.
It is unclear when the next batch of Japan’s popular “nicotine-free” e-cigarettes will be available in Australia.
In November last year, the Japanese government said it was developing an electronic cigarette that could deliver nicotine levels up to 20 per cent higher than the recommended dose.
It has not yet released any information on its plans.
The Japanese government’s goal is for an e-cig to be sold in stores by 2020.
That would be in line with other major tobacco companies, which are expected to roll them out to customers within months.
But a senior industry source told the ABC that Japanese manufacturers were still in the “early stages” of developing an e‑cigarette that delivers nicotine levels between 10 and 15 per cent, compared to the 20 per a typical cigarette.
“That’s still far too low to be widely available,” the source said.
“So they’re trying to make it as cheap as possible to get that into the hands of the consumer as quickly as possible.”‘
Too ambitious’The source also questioned the timing of the announcement, given the global tobacco epidemic that has killed thousands of people in the past year.
“We know that the world is burning through more cigarettes than ever before,” the Japanese source said, adding that the “most important thing” was that people could use the products.
“It’s too ambitious to be making a product that is not available in stores.”
The Japanese tobacco industry, which includes cigarette makers Panasonic and Tokyo Tobacco, has made efforts to improve the delivery of nicotine in recent years.
It said last year that it would invest $10 million into an ecigarette company in the US, which is working on developing its own electronic cigarette.
In 2015, it launched an electronic nicotine delivery system called Smoke, and has since started to expand its e-liquid offerings.
It also announced a partnership with Tokyo Tobacco last year.
A joint venture with the Tokyo-based pharmaceutical giant Takeda Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures the popular nicotine inhaler Nescafé, is also under way.
But while Japanese companies are trying to get their products onto the market, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the potential health risks of e-cigs.
The WHO has issued guidelines for e-liquids and e-tobacco products that warn against combustion, smoking and excessive use of nicotine.
“If a product is used for smoking or excessive use or is being marketed to people who smoke, it may be harmful,” WHO spokeswoman Susanne Osterman told AFP.
“The WHO recommends that it should not be used as a smoking cessation aid.”
To be effective, it should be used sparingly, in small doses and only in the context of regular smoking cessation.”‘
No reason to panic’A senior manufacturer with a Japanese brand told AFP the plan was “a bit more realistic” and would be rolled out by 2020, but added it was not clear when.”
There are no plans for a nicotine-free product in Japan at this time,” the company said.
It added that Japan has the best e-commerce infrastructure and technology in the world.”
They have the strongest e-business in the region and we are optimistic that we will be able to make the e-juice available to consumers by 2020.
“The Tokyo-headquartered company said it had no plans to launch an electronic tobacco product in Australia but that “if there is a chance of a global market launch”, it would work with other manufacturers.”
Japan is a key market and a global leader in e-smoking, but we have no reason to be worried,” the firm said.