To Yukio Takano, Mayor of Toshima Ward, Tokyo:
I urge you to dismantle the new tobacco industry-funded smoking area in the crowded center of our ward. Please instead respect Toshima Ward’s commitment as a World Health Organization-certified Safe Community and our nation’s obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) by making all ward facilities smoke-free immediately.
Toshima Ward, one of the most important urban centers of Tokyo and the most over-populated, hosts over 270,000 people in a 13-sq. km area. Last November, the ward became a World Health Organization-certified Safe Community, supported by the WHO Collaborating Center on Community Safety Promotion at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden. As a Safe Community, the ward promised to promote high safety standards based on scientific evidence, moving beyond the outdated domestic policies of neighboring wards and elsewhere in Japan.
Therefore, Toshima’s decision to construct a new smoking area in front of the East Exit of Ikebukuro Station, which opened earlier this month, financed by the global industry giant Japan Tobacco, Inc., is shocking. This new area is reportedly 98 meters square, replacing two smoking areas that generated daily complaints owing to secondhand smoke problems.
Many things are disturbing with regards to the new construction.
1. The walls surrounding the new area are only 2 meters high. Twenty-thousand people are estimated to use this space, adjacent to a major pedestrian route, every day. Obviously, a massive amount of toxic fumes will drift from the area into the nearby spaces and expose vulnerable bystanders.
2. The plan was kept secret, except for a limited number of influential people, while the ward was under consideration for becoming a WHO-certified Safe Community. It seems the ward was plainly aware of the hypocrisy of its actions here.
3. The plan moved smoothly through the ward assembly due to a promise for funding from Japan Tobacco, estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, Japan Tobacco wants to build its profits. But what benefit does the ward get?
This taints the ward’s reputation as a WHO-certified Safe Community, and violates Japan’s FCTC promises that the nation’s local government entities will not partner with the tobacco industry because the industry is so obviously an enemy of the public’s health.
4. The ward government quickly approved the new area despite opposition from neighborhood groups because a similar plan for the West Gate of Ikebukuro Station had previously been blocked by tough neighborhood protests.
5. At the same time, the ward’s public health department runs campaigns for smoking cessation and about the prevention of secondhand smoke exposure.
It seems that Toshima Ward wants to separate smokers from nonsmokers rather than ban it in public areas. But the notion of separating smokers has been rejected by science and by countries all around the world. Besides, it is absurd to facilitate smoking while also implementing anticancer and similar measures.
We know that most people who smoke wish to quit. Can the ward put public health posters that advertise smoking cessation programs into the public smoking areas, which are, after all, public spaces? Or will this instead become an advertising venue for the tobacco industry, attracting youth and helping build customer loyalty, until these customers die from tobacco use?
How does this fit with the ward’s stated mission to “ensure safe lives and peace of mind,” not to mention our hopes of attracting the 2020 Summer Olympics?
Do not be silly, Mr. Mayor. This puts the health and wellbeing of Toshima’s residents and visitors in danger.
Let’s not be Japan Tobacco’s dirty ashtray. Let’s prove that we deserve our title as a WHO-certified Safe Community.
Rev. Akinori Kuruma, M.D., Ph.D., is the chief priest of Kouganji Temple, Sugamo, Toshima Ward, Tokyo, and a councilor for the Japan Society of Tobacco Control. Send your comments and Hotline to Nagata-cho submissions of 500-700 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.