Japan has long been dubbed a “smoker’s paradise” due to its lax smoking laws and deep-rooted smoking culture. Its longstanding unwillingness to pass stricter smoking regulations puts Japan far behind other developed nations, nearly all of which have implemented wide-ranging public smoking bans.
However, public smoking regulations may be on the horizon. On Sept 8, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced that it’s planning to propose a ban on indoor smoking in certain buildings, such as restaurants, hotels, airports and more. This movement appears to be the result of many factors, both local and international. Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has strongly advocated for a public smoking ban, a standard practice dating from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike has long pushed for the ban. Western tourists, who are attending the Olympics or are visiting for other purposes, now want and expect public places to be smoke-free. Additionally, a study of tourist reactions to the smoking ban at the international airport in Bangkok found that 99% of respondents, including both smokers and non-smokers, supported the smoke-free policy.
Secondhand smoke, which remains unregulated and rampant, poses a real danger to people across Japan, which is why this proposed ban is so important. The overwhelming majority of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking or secondhand smoke. Comprehensive secondhand smoke laws would save lives, because preventing exposure to cigarette smoke would significantly decrease the number of deaths from lung cancer.
While the number of smokers in Japan has steadily declined over the years, 18.2% of adults in Japan remain smokers, including 28.2% of men and 9% of women. At its peak in 1966, nearly half (49.4%) of adults in Japan smoked, including a staggering 83.7% of men and 18% of women. More than 70,000 Japanese people die every year from lung cancer, and the Japanese health ministry estimates that 15,000 people die every year due to diseases related to secondhand smoke.
An important factor that has hampered the progress of a smoking ban in Japan is the connection between the Japanese government and the revenue from cigarette sales. In addition to receiving billions of Yen annually in cigarette tax revenues, the government owns a one-third stake in Japan Tobacco (JT), the third-largest global tobacco company. Passing measures that may reduce this…