Lighting up in Japan a way of life

Japan - In Japan, smoking is a serious business. It’s government business. But while state-owned Japan tobacco turns out Japan smokerscigarettes, it’s also adapting to a changing culture.

Step inside Lunchan Café and you can see and smell change in the air; literally. Everything’s non smoking.

The restaurant is in Kanagawa, the first prefecture to go non-smoking in all of Japan. A new ordinance now mandates if you want to light up indoors you need a separate, walled off space.

Kanagawa’s tobacco control unit says the only place you can smoke in this government building is outside, with the pigeons; amid the rooftop vents of the building.

More than 80 percent of men smoked right after the war, says Horie Nobuo. Less than 40 percent smoke nowadays. This is a big change.

But Japan is far behind other developed nations, says non-smoking advocate Koreyoshi Takahashi.

Takahashi pays the price for Japan’s decades long smoking culture. He can walk up a few stairs, but beyond that,
what remains of his lungs cannot take much more.

Doctors removed two thirds of his right lung, lost to lung cancer, caused by two decades of a two to three pack a day smoking habit.

Everyone smoked he says, no one thought the government would sell anything bad for your health. But it was, and still is, Japan tobacco is majority-owned by the government.

Takahashi is suing Japan tobacco, he lost in the district courts and the case is on appeal. He doesn’t expect to win, but hopes it will continue to force the country to change its laws.

Tobacco is still on the market, he says, containing tons of cancerous material. And it’s sold by the government. “It’s unbelievable.”

Kazuhito Yamashita is the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at Japan tobacco, also known as JT.

It’s a groundless opinion that the government’s ownership of JT shares is delaying anti-smoking public policy, he says, adding that JT has been pushing for 100 percent privatization.

He points out the non-smoking trend in Japan is happening and the company is adjusting to the new culture.

Smokers are finding fewer and fewer places to light up. Outside one train station, smokers are confined to “smoking” pens, paid in part by Japan tobacco.

I don’t like this, says Shinji Motegi, who says this is what animals at the zoo must feel like. “It makes me feel like a criminal.”

Responding to that customer complaint that there are fewer and fewer places to smoke, Japan tobacco has developed a smokeless cigarette, called “zero-style.”

Instead of lighting up, you inhale a plastic pipe, the tobacco is inside in replaceable cartridges. It’s not a way to hook consumers on another type of tobacco, stresses Yamashita.

This is a tobacco product, therefore there’s a risk with it. It’s our job to provide options for the customers who understand that risk and still would like to smoke.

Takahashi is fighting against the use of any tobacco products, calling it all poison. For his generation, smoking was a rite of passage into adulthood.

Takahashi sees the non smoking laws as an awakening for Japan. That he hopes will mean a longer life for the next generation.

By Kyung Lah, 14 Apr 2010

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