JinK: Bishop-san, you sound a bit stuffy today.
Bishop: Yes, I’ve developed hay fever recently.
JinK: Developed? You mean you didn’t have it before?
Bishop: Yes, it’s funny. I went to the doctor and the first thing he asked
was how long I’ve been in Japan. I said 3 years and he concluded
that it’s probably allergies. I thought he was crazy at first,
but we did a blood test and it turns out he was right.
Bishop: Apparently, it builds up year after year inside the body and
develops once a certain level is exceeded, though that level is
different from person to person. So after 3 years of living in Japan
it’s not unusual for foreigners to develop hay fever.
JinK: Once you get hay fever it never goes away. That’s too bad for you.
Tokyo in particular has a lot of pollen. Sometimes even people
without hay fever get itchy eyes. That’s one thing I like about Boston.
I don’t have to worry about pollen from cedar trees in the spring.
Bishop: To make matters worse, someone was smoking at the restaurant
I went to last night.
JinK: I know what you mean. A lot more restaurants in Japan have gone
non-smoking, but there are still a lot that have people smoking.
So that was hard on your lungs?
Bishop: Yes it was. I don’t understand; so much of Japan has gone
non-smoking, but smoking is still allowed in restaurants.
It’s weird, you are not even allowed to smoke outside or on the street
anymore, but you are still allowed to smoke indoors?
I mean, it’s nice to walk around outside without smelling smoke,
but if I had to choose, I’d ban indoor smoking first.
JinK: Certainly, in the U.S. smoking is prohibited indoors and
you see people smoking outside. It’s the opposite of Japan.
Bishop: I know. Indoor smoking bans should definitely come first.
JinK: Yes, it is a strange situation. You should know that these laws
prohibiting public smoking have all come up in the past 10 years.
That’s probably why you’re seeing a discrepancy.
15 years ago, the smoking laws were much more lax.
Bishop: Yes, I remember. The first time I came to Japan, everyone
was smoking in the office. There was a machine to suck up
the smoke, but of course it still smelled really smoky.
Also, there were smoking cars on all the trains. I actually smoked back
then, so I didn’t really mind it…
JinK: So you know that there has traditionally been a very strong smoking
culture in Japan. In the 1970’s, 80% of men and 15% of women smoked.
Today, it’s fallen to 30% of men and 10% of women. The percentage
in the U.S. is a bit above 20% for men and a bit below 20% for women,
so Japan is becoming a lot like the U.S. in this regard.
I think the main reason that the smoking rate dropped was the 2-3x increase
in cigarette prices, but I think that some other important factors that
contributed to the decrease include the increase in public awareness about
the dangers of second-hand smoke and the strengthening of anti-smoking
regulations in other developed countries. These factors all made smoking
more difficult in offices and outdoors.
Bishop: I see. So that explains why the anti-smoking laws have been getting stricter.
But I still don’t understand the order in which it’s happening.
Why would smoking be banned outdoors, where the smoke just dissipates up
into the air, but be allowed indoors, where it has such a greater effect?
JinK: I know how you feel. I also prefer no smoking indoors. If I’m out having
sushi and the person next to me is smoking, the food doesn’t taste
as good anymore. But I think there is a reason it happened that way.
Bishop: What’s that?
JinK: I think it’s the difference between public and private spaces.
In public spaces, it’s easier to create legal restrictions. A long time ago, there
was an incident where a child was burned in the face by the lit cigarette of
a passing pedestrian and had to be taken away by ambulance.
Walking while smoking is dangerous in crowded places, and it leads to dirty roads.
So I think it was easier for public opinion to get behind the ban of smoking
in public places. But restaurants and bars are privately owned, so there’s
the question of how much authority should be used to ban smoking.
There are clear legal restrictions to prevent things like food poisoning and
fires which it’s clear must be prevented, but tobacco is not clearly prohibited,
so it’s in a grey area.
So the situation today is that it has been left up to the judgment of the manager
of each restaurant and bar. Furthermore, the amount of taxes the government
earns from tobacco makes it difficult for them to make sweeping changes in the law.
I read recently that the governor of Tokyo wants to make Tokyo non-smoking
by the 2020 Olympics, so you’ll probably see a ban in restaurants and bars
Bishop: I hope that does happen. But if the current situation continues it does
create some funny scenarios.
JinK: Such as?
Bishop: I was at a bar recently; people outside had to go inside in order to smoke.
JinK: Well, that works for you then. You can go outside and enjoy the fresh air! (lol).
Bishop: Ahh, that would be putting the cart before the horse!
Fact15: In some Japanese cities smoking is prohibited outdoors but still allowed inside restaurants and other indoor areas
by Bishop & JinK.