Japan has long held a reputation of being something of a paradise for smokers. Tobacco is, at least by Western standards, relatively cheap and people can still light up in many of the country's restaurants and bars. In fact, before the turn of the century smokers could pretty much puff away on a cigarette anywhere.

There used to be little social stigma against smokers — they were accepted as a fairly ordinary part of society. People smoked near women who were pregnant or in close proximity to children. If others didn't want their clothes or hair to reek of smoke, it was up to them to find a smoke-free space.

Within the past decade, the landscape has changed significantly. Many urban areas now prohibit smoking in public spaces on the streets, while a number of restaurants have either created segregated smoking and nonsmoking sections in dining rooms or introduced no-smoking rules during lunch hours. Hospitals and companies involved in public transportation, including taxis, have laid down a complete ban on smoking. The retail price of cigarettes has even increased a little.