Secondhand Smoke Second Priority in Japan

Tuesday, 20 Mar, 2018

Well of course Japan isn’t going to live up to its Health Ministry’s promises to “ban indoor smoking”. Let me rant a little:

Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, or “MHLW”, was selling some big promises (tall tales?) during the run-up to the decision to host the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, about “creating a smoke-free environment”. As a long-term non-smoking resident of Japan, I was (admittedly naïvely) hoping it would happen, but I read in the Japan Times that the Tobacco lobby has won a lot of concessions in the “secondhand smoke” amendment being discussed now. Search for Japan Tobacco acquisitions and you’ll find that JT is healthy enough to buy various companies, too, so I don’t imagine they are suffering.

So all this was kind of on my mind when the other day, I arrived at my usual barber, and was disappointed to realize that they had an ashtray in the waiting area. I’d never even seen it before, but, some customer had been sitting there chain-smoking, judging by the butts piled in the ashtray, and the whole place reeked of this guy’s cheap smokes. Eyes burning, that acrid stench stayed with me the whole time in the chair.

Fuck yes, secondhand smoke is real.

Alright. Things have improved since I arrived here in 1987, it’s true. Some wards in Tokyo and Yokohama have ordinances about no smoking or butt-tossing in the streets, and indeed most lunch spots are non-smoking during lunchtime business hours, at least.

I remember a few times I grabbed the wrist of some smoking asshat, swinging his lit cigarette on a crowded street, to tell him to be careful. It was many, many years ago, but it feels fresh; those cigarettes are right about the level of a child’s face, so, it’s a genuine concern. Or, it should be a concern for a thoughtful, unselfish adult.

Around where I work, despite ordinances and signs, I still see Japanese people puffing away while walking and chatting, pretty much daily, sometimes even loitering right under the signs about the ordinance. Tells ya something about ordinances, right?

It was more than ironic, then, when I saw the below scene I snapped near a hotel near my office. Got news for you, duct-tape-loving building-owner-san, it’s not foreigners who are the ones with bad manners about smoking and loitering.

In the end, I guess smokers simply don’t have the common sense to imagine that other people might find their nasty habit distasteful or just bad-smelling.

The expected influx of foreign visitors for the 2020 Olympics is going to be interesting. Visitors, if you’re a non-smoker, I urge you to contact your hotel about non-smoking restaurants in its area, before you come. Please take the action to apply pressure and don’t take “no” for an answer, so the hotels might hopefully transfer some of your pressure to local businesses. Come on! We can do it!

🚬 🚭 😱

Photo - Makeshift English Non-smoking Signs on Duct Tape, photo by Rick Cogley
Photo: Makeshift English Non-smoking Signs on Duct Tape, photo by Rick Cogley