apan's smoking rate, one of the highest in the industrialized world, has fallen to a new low amid rising health awareness and tighter regulations, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The overall rate of smokers in Japan slid to a new record of 26 percent of the adult population this year from 26.3 percent a year ago and has steadily dropped since 1996, according to the annual survey by Japan Tobacco Inc., the country's largest tobacco maker.
The rate among Japanese men declined to 40.2 percent from 41.3 percent a year ago, but the rate among women edged up to 12.7 percent from 12.4 percent, the survey showed.
``As a whole, the country's smoking rate is moderately declining,'' said Yukiko Seto, spokeswoman for the Tokyo-based Japan Tobacco.
Seto said growing health awareness and tighter regulations were behind the decline.
Many restaurants have begun designating nonsmoking sections, while train operators have banned smoking in all but a few designated areas. Many public facilities and hospitals are now smoke-free, and some taxi cabs now ban customers from lighting up.
Cigarette packs must also carry a sign warning of cigarettes' harmful health effects.
Still, a higher percentage of Japanese light up than most countries in the industrialized world. The U.S. smoking rate stood at 18 percent in 2003, while 27 percent of British men and 24 percent of British women smoked in the same year.
The survey, conducted in May 2007, questioned 32,000 adults aged 20 and older nationwide by mail. A total of 19,205 people responded, or 60 percent, with a margin of error of 1 percent, Seto said.