Outdoor Smoking Ban in Tokyo
sabez at u.washington.edu
Fri Nov 29 11:49:39 PST 2002
This article points out that Japan wins the gold in the men's smoking
olympics, and the government has a pro-smoking policy. Of course it is
the healthiest country in the world, but to mention that would be a no-no
for then we would have to confront determinants of health. STephen
NYT November 29, 2002 Get Off Those Sidewalks, Smokers, and Go Inside By
TOKYO, Nov. 28 -- In many countries, it is illegal to smoke indoors, but
legal to smoke outdoors. In Tokyo, people light up with abandon in
restaurants, taxis and many offices. But now on some congested downtown
sidewalks, new red-and-white stencils mark zones where it is illegal to
Health-conscious Americans might suspect the new rules are an effort to
shield nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, or to put a dent in cancer rates.
But to Japanese critics, the new outdoor smoking ban suggests that
officials in this tidy nation worry more about singed suits than sooty
The new rules, which apply only to premier districts of central Tokyo, are
intended not to promote health, but rather to cut the litter of discarded
cigarette butts and to reduce damage to clothing on busy sidewalks.
As much as a triumph of abstainers over smokers, the new laws also reflect
a rare victory for women in the country's subtle war between the sexes.
Half of Japan's men smoke a pack a day, by far the highest rate among
major developed nations. In contrast, Japanese women, who like to project
an image of fresh-faced purity, smoke at the lowest rates in the developed
world -- 14 percent. They have supported the ban most.
"I saw a man's cigarette burn a woman's skirt once," said Kotoe Tamura, a
31-year-old company worker. "She complained, but he ignored her, and
pretended nothing had happened. It was outrageous."
Speaking a block from the Ginza, Tokyo's top fashion street, she said she
welcomed the move to fine smokers on busy sections of the shopping
district. Inspectors in yellow jackets now hand out $20 tickets to smokers
on downtown sidewalks.
But lurking in the shadows, a few yards from the no-smoking zone, were the
glowing embers of the hotaru-zoku, or the "firefly tribe," as the smokers
"It's minority rule," complained Wataru Otsuji, a 22-year-old salaryman,
his regulation dark blue suit disappearing into the evening dusk. "There
are more smokers than nonsmokers," he said, referring to male smoking
rates. "But the nonsmokers hate us."
Hideaki Osawa, a 57-year-old salaryman smoking nearby, agreed. Looking
around, he cautioned, "You have to be careful, or you will be penalized."
Only 20 feet away, at the exit of a subway stop, was a freshly painted
sign -- a red circle and crossbar superimposed over the white outline of a
smoking cigarette. In each of the new zones, usually an area of several
city blocks, the no-smoking areas are around subway exits and areas of
heavy pedestrian traffic.
Tokyo's subway system, at 1,430 miles, is 5 percent longer than the New
York City system, but it carries eight times as many people each day.
Pedestrian gridlock occurs every morning when rush hour trains unpack
Chiyoda, the downtown ward where the ordinance went into effect this fall,
has only 40,000 residents, but weekday commuters swell the population to a
"As soon as they come out of the station, all the smokers start lighting
their cigarettes at once," Ms. Tamura said of the thundering legions of
men wielding lighters and matches. "Why can't they wait a little more,
until they reach their offices or somewhere they can smoke?"
On Nov. 1, ticketing started to enforce the no-smoking ordinance, the
first in Japan to carry a penalty. Under the new rules, repeat sidewalk
puffers could find their names published in the newspapers and face fines
as high as $165.
On the appointed day, television news crews turned out in force, filming
smokers running down streets to escape inspectors. Some smokers who stood
their ground often used interesting language and gestures not generally
seen on television here. In the first two weeks, inspectors handed out
about 35 tickets a day.
"Manners in public spaces must come ahead of individual habits," said
Masami Ishikawa, mayor of the Chiyoda ward. The ward is the nation's
spiritual, political, commercial and media nerve center, encompassing the
Parliament building, the Imperial Palace, part of the Ginza, downtown
banks, hotels and companies.
A pack-a-day smoker himself, Mr. Ishikawa told the Nikkei Weekly newspaper
that he was unmoved by the alternative of smokers' carrying portable
pocket ashtrays, a common sight here.
"Chiyoda residents want the ward to become free of cigarette butts on
every busy street," the 60-year-old mayor added. "I hope the ordinance
will prompt new rules on the nation's smoking culture."
With the measure here winning widespread publicity, a host of other cities
across the country have contacted the ward government for advice for their
own outdoor antismoking laws.
But despite the annoyance of a $20 fine for smoking on a downtown sidewalk
in central Tokyo, Japan is likely to remain a smoker's paradise.
The government earns $17 billion in taxes from cigarette sales, and a
"tobacco tribe" of lawmakers in Parliament makes sure that there is no
serious financing for antismoking campaigns.
Japan is the world's largest importer of cigarettes, about 83 billion a
year. Japanese smokers also pay the some of the lowest taxes in the
developed world, only $1.16 a pack. With 600,000 cigarette vending
machines operating nationwide, the $2 pack costs the equivalent of eight
minutes of work in Tokyo, compared with 20 minutes in Los Angeles and 40
minutes in London.
Health advocates say the crackdown in parts of Tokyo may push some smokers
to quit. But they concede that it may also simply force smokers inside,
sparing dresses perhaps, but exposing others to more second-hand smoke
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