• SHARE

A pair of middle-aged men in bright yellow uniforms patrol a business district near JR Tokyo Station in Chiyoda Ward, watching every pedestrian like hawks. They spot a salaryman carrying a lighted cigarette and spring into action.

The team, assigned by the ward to crack down on public smoking in designated areas, comes across offenders roughly every five minutes. Errant smokers, usually annoyed but nevertheless obedient, are asked to cough up 2,000 yen.

“Thanks to our efforts over the past year and the wide publicity of the ward’s policy, offenders show less sign of surprise and are becoming more compliant in paying the penalty when they are caught,” said Masahiro Yamazaki, 61. The retired police officer has been a street patrol member since April.

Some smokers, especially those who are drunk, curse at patrol workers, he said. Others run away. Occasionally, smokers show their displeasure by throwing cash at the officers.

“But they usually appear to regret their action, perhaps knowing that smoking on streets is a bad habit,” he said.

The local ordinance banning smoking in public spaces marked its first anniversary Wednesday. According to Chiyoda Ward Mayor Masami Ishikawa, it is the first ordinance of its kind, perhaps in the world. Some other municipalities have since followed suit.

The ward started imposing penalties on people smoking in public in November. Since then, 4,935 people have been fined by patrol teams, and 3,570, or 72 percent, actually paid the fines. Offenders have a choice of paying the penalty on the spot or depositing cash into the ward’s designated bank account, ward officials said.

The ward employs 10 retired police officers who take turns patrolling the streets — usually in pairs — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

According to the ward, the number of cigarette butts littering the streets in patrolled areas has fallen by more than 90 percent since the campaign began.

A man in his 30s who was stopped by the patrol team near Tokyo Station complained as he took out his wallet.

“I didn’t know that smoking was banned here,” he said, “and it feels a bit unfair to become one of the unlucky few. But there seems no other way to effectively solve the problem” of street smoking.

The ward unveiled in February 2002 its plan to introduce the ordinance. Since then, it has received nearly 5,000 e-mails, phone calls, faxes and letters from the public, with around 75 percent of them expressing support for the ward’s policy. It has also received inquiries from more than 70 local governments nationwide.

Residents in other areas of the ward soon began calling for a ban on smoking in public areas, so the local government decided to expand the zone. Beginning this month, the business districts around Tokyo Station and two other places have been designated smoke-free.

Public smoking is prohibited in about 39 percent of the ward. The areas around all JR stations, including Tokyo, Akihabara and Yotsuya stations, are included.

The cities of Hiroshima and Fukuoka as well as Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, have enacted ordinances to penalize open-air smoking in designated areas. They plan to fine offenders.

Beginning this month, people found smoking in public in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, will be fined 1,000 yen. Public smoking is similarly prohibited in Suginami Ward, although fines have not yet been implemented.

“A positive public reaction to Chiyoda’s efforts convinced our mayor to enact a similar ordinance,” said an official of Ichikawa, which enacted an ordinance banning smoking last month. It plans to start fining offenders in April.

“Still, we have a lot to do and must learn from Chiyoda before mapping out specific guidelines on the collection of fines,” he said. The official recently visited Chiyoda Ward to pick up some tips.

Chiyoda Ward Mayor Ishikawa said the ordinance is a financial burden for the ward.

“From a year of experience, I can say it takes a lot of money, a change in the mentality of every worker and devotion by all to continue an all-out effort,” he said.

One-third of the ward’s roughly 1,300 employees are required to participate in the antismoking activities it promotes, such as taking part in weekend patrols on rotating shifts, Ishikawa said.

The ward has spent more than 120 million yen publicizing the ordinance, and the patrol officers cost more than 90,000 yen per day. Since introducing the ban, the ward has collected about 7 million yen in fines, covering only a small portion of the total cost.

But despite the growing antismoking movement in Japan, the mayor, who has smoked more than a pack a day for the past 30 years, said the ward has no intention of banning smoking altogether.

“At least we have enabled nonsmokers to voice opposition” to smoking on the streets, he said, pointing out that the ward has received thousands of letters of gratitude from nonsmokers. “Japan has often been too tolerant toward smoking, and this is a big step.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW