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Tokyo became just a little less smoky from April 1 this year. As new students and employees began their first days of school or work, East Japan Railway began its first day of a smoking ban at all JR stations within a 50 km radius from Tokyo station. The ban is a welcome one for non-smokers, a hassle for smokers, and perhaps the beginning of the end of an era for a once tobacco-pervasive city.

Tokyo smokers will no longer be able to enjoy their last puffs at the end of station platforms before hopping onto the express home. A few specially ventilated smoking rooms remain at major stations, but most smokers will now have to search outside stations to find a place to light up. Since almost any tiny space can be turned to profit in highly crowded Tokyo, smoking areas are now a costly courtesy for a disappearing minority.

As smokers hustle to find places to exercise their smoking rights (let’s hope the little extra cardiovascular work of searching for a spot is not the only exercise smokers get), some may question their lifestyle choice. If so, that’s good. Lifestyle choices often have an impact on society as well as on individual health. Within the Japanese health care and insurance system, everyone is ultimately involved in the effects of smoking. Since treating tobacco-related illnesses is not free, smoking is a social issue, not just an individual choice.

Smokers often frame the issue of smoking as one of freedom. The real issue, though, is the harm of secondhand smoke. The damage of smoking, direct and indirect, has been well documented, and well litigated. An old saying about social rights says that the right to swing one’s arm stops at another person’s nose. The same concept applies to smoking; however, stopping smoke from others’ noses in densely crowded Tokyo is all but impossible. A public smoking ban is the inevitable solution.

While non-smokers can now breathe a little easier at JR stations, they still must endure the hazards of secondhand smoke in most public places, including restaurants and cafes. We hope the move by JR to eliminate smoking on its platforms will prompt other Tokyo-based businesses, as well as the Metropolitan government, to consider implementing similar smoking bans in other public facilities.

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