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Health ministry to provide subsidy for counseling via smartphones to stop smoking

(Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will offer financial support for the first time to an online counseling program to discourage smoking to be launched in September by a consortium of health insurance associations of 20 major corporations such as Nissan Motor Corp. and the Fuji Film group of companies.

The official green light given by the government for the consortium's activity may accelerate efforts to ban smoking in public places in the period leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.

The group's members are health insurance associations of companies such as Tokyo Electric Power Co., tire maker Bridgestone Corp., camera and optical equipment manufacturer Olympus Corp., McDonald's Japan and Marui Co., the operator of department stores. The associations provide health insurance coverage for 570,000 people.

According to Linkage, the company commissioned to carry out the anti-smoking tele-counselling service, a medical doctor will interview those participating in the program four times within eight weeks over a smartphone, among other means. For the next 28 weeks, a public health nurse will attend to the needs of the participant via email to make sure that they have quit smoking. The individual can then join an online community of people who kicked the habit and share their experiences to stay away from smoking.

The health ministry decided in late July to provide 30 million yen to the program, which was proposed in response to the ministry's public solicitation. Under the current arrangement, nearly 500 people are expected to participate in the program by March next year. Half or the total fee will be covered by the ministry subsidy. Overall, between 2,000 and 3,000 people will take part in the program if those using the consortium's independent service are included.

Some 20 more health insurance associations are hoping to join the consortium, and the remote counseling service will eventually cover tens of thousands of people, according to people familiar with the plan.

An official at the Employees' Health Insurance Division of the ministry said, "We want those associations to share their know-how and solve smoking problems effectively."

(Japanese original by Yoshihiko Saito, Lifestyle News Department)

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