Some Cabinet members may get particularly edgy as they are temporarily deprived of a habitual means of relaxation during a weeklong no-smoking campaign that kicked off Tuesday as part of a government health plan.
Scheduled to incorporate the World Health Organization’s Nonsmoking Day on May 31, ashtrays were removed Tuesday from the room where regular Cabinet meetings are held and will remain absent until June 6. Smoking will be strictly prohibited during the period.
“I have nothing to do with that, but some may have a rather tough time,” said Transport Minister Toshihiro Nikai, a nonsmoker, during a press conference following Tuesday’s meeting.
The 61-year-old minister recalled that as a youth he and a friend pledged not to smoke until turning 20 — the age at which one is legally allowed to smoke — but never ended up starting, and has not smoked to this day.
Nikai tried to make some connection with nicotine-addicted colleagues, saying a portion of a 28 trillion yen fund used to liquidate the debt of the former national railway — a project the transport minister was in charge of — was raised from tobacco product taxes.
Politicians have repeatedly turned to tobacco taxes to generate revenue when the state coffers are empty.
“I wish we could give smokers more breathing room today,” Nikai said, noting that they must feel they are a minority as spaces where they can light up are increasingly limited.