Paying for the habit of a minority

Regarding the Aug. 1 article “Japan’s smoking rate falls below 20% for first time, manufacturer says“: It’s time to add my two-pence worth. I’m taking this headline statement with a rather large pinch of salt, for the following reasons:

First, Japan is a smoker’s paradise. Cigarettes are available at vending machines and are openly displayed in supermarkets. At roughly ¥440 a pack, the price is about one-quarter that in Australia. And there are no graphic health warnings — such as on cigarette packs — either. One can also occasionally see posters advertising cigarettes on the streets.

Second, there is no anti-smoking advertising on TV. Cigarette packs are branded in attractive or slim designs with the specific intent of snaring young people. Any health warnings are in very small print on the packs. One would think if the smoking rate had truly fallen as low as is claimed, there would be some sort of awareness campaign about the well-known — but in Japan’s case, ignored — dangers of smoking.

Third, there is no effective legislation to prevent the smoking minority from forcing their habit on the nonsmoking majority. Starbucks is at least one cafe chain in Japan where one may have a coffee without being the recipient of secondary smoke. Burger King has sealed-off rooms.

As for other “family restaurants” like Saizeriya, Gusto, etc. (which encourage families with kids to dine), the only thing that often separates smokers from nonsmokers is a few meters of space and a little glass partition. The drinks dispenser may be next to the smoking area. In most pubs and bars, there are no smoke-free areas. I’ve seen parents bring their kids there and light up in their faces.

Fourth, in supposed no-smoking areas (as in Chiyoda Ward), I’ve seen people light up a few meters away from a police box with impunity, or even while strolling along the streets. Lack of enforcement of existing rules is the problem, because make no mistake, until Japan’s smokers are hit in their pockets with fines, this disregard for rules and the health and comfort of others will continue.

These factors are why I’m taking the headline of the article with a large pinch of salt. Until Japan’s ruling elite surrender their controlling share in Japan Tobacco, and enact enforced legislation to curtail the effects of passive smoking, the health of the majority will continue to pay for the habit of a minority.

christopher glen
perth, australia

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.