Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Japan: next target of anti-smoker zealots?

I was bouncing around on the net recently, not knowing where I was going or what I might find when I got there, when a headline in the sidebar of one site caught my eye: Will Japan Ever Have a Smoking Ban Following the link took me to a site called “The Faster Times.”

According to its own promo, “The Faster Times is an independent collective of journalists and writers who are looking to create a new model for the newspaper.” It's an interesting concept.

The author, Daniel Krieger, was praising those jurisdictions which had enacted smoking bans, and waxing eloquent about turning ashtrays into flower pots or some such. Reflecting on the virtues of smoking bans, and the apparent lack of same in Japan, prompted him to pose the question: “So why is it that Japan, a country so advanced in so many ways, still hasn’t gotten its act together when it comes to meaningful tobacco laws?”

By “meaningful tobacco laws”, Krieger obviously means the discriminatory anti-smoker laws, common in North America and Europe, which force smokers into social isolation, deny them employment, housing and would even deny appropriate health care. He appears to be somewhat chagrined with the more reasonable anti-smoking laws enacted thus far in Japan.

Unlike North America and Europe, smoking is still permitted almost everywhere in Japan. And, although smoking has been restricted in some environments, designated smoking areas are usually available.

And, while the anti-smoker zealots elsewhere are busily dictating how small business owners should run their business, Japan, for the time being, is content to allow them to make their own decisions on whether or not to impose smoking bans.

Some big name global chains, Starbucks, for example, bans smoking in all its stores. McDonald's Japan plans to ban smoking at some of its stores and banned smoking at its 298 restaurants in Kanagawa prefecture in March, 2010. Kentucky Fried Chicken banned smoking at one branch in Shibuya, Tokyo in July, 2010. And, many independent restaurants and bars have opted to go smoke free.

Most of the trains and subway platforms in Japan prohibit smoking, mostly because they are so crowded that it's simply impossible to light up safely. And, at least one prefecture, Chiyoda-ku, banned smoking while walking on crowded, busy streets in November, 2002. And, the last article I read on the subject suggested that less than 25% of hotel rooms were designated as non-smoking.

The purchase and smoking of cigarettes is restricted to persons over the age of twenty, the age of majority in Japan. But there are no bans on the display of cigarettes or other tobacco products in retail outlets. Cigarettes can be bought in tobacco stores, convenience stores and vending machines, although purchase from the latter is only possible with a Taspo (tobacco passport) card which verifies the holder's age.

Just as a curiosity, it was estimated in 2006, that Japan had over 500,000 cigarette vending machines. But, it should be noted that almost anything in Japan can be purchased from a vending machine, including beer and alcohol.

But, comparatively speaking, there are few anti-smoking laws and none as restrictive, or discriminatory, as the anti-smoker laws found in North America and Europe.

So, what's behind Japan's more liberal attitude to smoking and smokers?

The first thing that has to be recognized is that the smoking prevalence rate in Japan, although declining, is still among the highest in the world. In 1966, it was estimated that over 83% of Japanese men smoked, and the latest figures suggest that slightly over 36% of men continue to enjoy the habit. Smoking prevalence among women is quite low, somewhere between 9% and 15%, depending on who's quoting the figures.

In addition, the most recent study I've found on the subject, Ohida et al, 2001, notes that: “The prevalence of cigarette smoking among physicians was 27.1% for men and 6.8% for women.”

The second point that has to be considered is that the anti-smoker crusaders have yet to infiltrate the government to any great extent, perhaps due to the very high smoking rates which, undoubtedly, includes a number of politicians. And, without the full support of the government, financially and otherwise, anti-smoker propaganda campaigns become largely ineffective.

The most commonly cited reason for the failure of anti-smoker crusaders to win the support of government, is the role government (and politicians) play in the industry. Until 1985, the tobacco industry was a government-run monopoly. And, they are still heavily involved in the industry, with the Ministry of Finance controlling just over 50 percent of Japan Tobacco, the world's third largest tobacco company.

However, the anti-smoker group, the Japan Society for Tobacco Control, is working hard to change Japan's image as a smoker's haven. Their goal is to “educate” the public about the dangers of smoking, coerce smokers into quitting, and pressure politicians to implement smoking bans to “protect” non-smokers from the (largely non-existent) hazards of secondhand smoke.

Dr. Manabu Sakuta, head honcho of the Japanese anti-smoker group, following typical anti-smoker rhetoric, paints all those opposed to his group's efforts to de-normalize smokers as allies of the tobacco industry: “Japan Tobacco uses their in-pocket famous doctors, Diet members (Japanese legislature), Ministry of Finance bureaucrats, mass media, and even ordinary smokers” to work toward stifling regulation.

Shit. Everybody but Sakuta and his anti-smoker bunch is on the payroll of Japan tobacco. Including the mass media.

Which brings us to the third reason for the more tolerant attitude towards smokers and smoking in Japan. Unlike North America and Europe, the anti-smoker crusaders do not have control of, and are therefore unable to censor, the mass media . . . at least not yet.

Krieger notes in his article: “Although Japan Tobacco insists the solution lies in harmonious separation between smoking and non-smoking areas, Sakuta feels that a strictly enforced ban along the lines of New York or London is the only way to go.” In other words, why use a conciliatory approach to the smoking issue when you can easily resolve the problem by battering smokers upside the head with a sledge hammer?

Sakuta and his Japan Society for Tobacco Control and “its members that number in the thousands” want to dictate public policy on smoking issues to Japan's population of 127 million. They may face an uphill battle, but then again . . .

Did you know that Japanese lawmakers set a maximum allowable waistline size for anyone age 40 and older? And, Japan has one of the world’s lowest rates of obesity - less than 5 percent, compared to nearly 35 percent for the United States.

Shit. Maybe they were just giving their obesity epidemic priority.


Furor Teutonicus said...

Did you know that Japanese lawmakers set a maximum allowable waistline size for anyone age 40 and older? XX

And, if you exceed it?

The Old Rambler said...

Furor Teutonicus

Apparently, the onus falls on the employer to keep their employees trim and fit. “If companies do not reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2015, they could be required to pay more money into a health care program for the elderly. An estimated 56 million Japanese will have their waists measured this year.


The maximum waistline size for anyone age 40 and older: 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) for men and 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women.

chris said...

So Japan eschews antismoking fascism for anti-"obesity" fascism...

TheTruth said...

Okay, forget all the cancer risks etc- if i was to stand at an intersection with a can of (nice smelling) deordorant and spray it carelessly into the air so that it went all over the people standing on donewind of me, how long do you think it would take for one of them to punch me? Why should people smoking in public be treated nay differently?

TheTruth said...

Japanese employees have compulsory health checks. One girl I knew who was 149cm and 43kg starved herself for 24 hours prior to the check up because she was mainly worried about the consequences of being considered overweight. Japanese companies can apply pressure in a number of ways. A subtle hint to lose weight such as `don`t wear such small clothes` might be followed by nonrenewal of contract, or repeated compulsory transfers with the intention of forcing resignation. The Japanese generally do nothing to protect themselves, and take no action to support their colleagues in such cases.