In recent years there has been a dramatic change in attitudes towards smoking in public places in Japan. While it was a common sight to see someone walking along the street with a cigarette in their hand until a few years ago, nowadays it is becoming increasingly rare to see. It is fair to say that smokers have adopted a much politer approach to smoking in public. The movement towards a smoke-free environment is one welcomed by many, however accompanied by this is the tendency to drive smokers into corners and ostracize them for lighting up. Anti-smokers are increasingly pushing forward their demands, seeing a pollution-free environment as part of their right to a healthy lifestyle. But is it going too far?

There was an incident in Japan last year involving a male smoker and his neighbor. As part of his daily routine, the man would often go out on the balcony for a cigarette. The woman living above however, claimed that the smoke fumes created so much stress that it affected her both mental and physically. In December 2012, the woman filed a case against her neighbor at Nagoya District Court, claiming that by not considering the effects of his behavior on those around him, the man was breaching the law. The jury ruled that the man was liable to pay 50,000 yen of reparations for inflicting mental anguish. However, any connection between the deterioration in the woman’s health as exposure to cigarette smoke was denied. Nevertheless, the case undoubtedly had implications for many of Japan’s smokers.

Complaints from non-smokers have even been made about designated smoking areas in parks and stations, in some cases resulting in their removal. The increasing tendency to treat smokers with contempt, almost as though they were criminals is becoming undeniably apparent, but what exactly is fueling this vehement anti-smoking movement?

Moriyo Kimura, a doctor and also Technical official for the Ministry of Health and Welfare sheds some light on the possible cause:

“Since the Democratic Party came into power, there has been a strong tendency for the Japanese government to place emphasis on anti-smoking measures. The reason being that Yoko Komiyama, one of the most anti-smoking members of parliament, was elected Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare. Admittedly, smoking restrictions are being implemented worldwide on a daily basis and there is concrete scientific evidence to suggests smoking is hazardous to one’s health. However it is peculiar is that smoking should rank so highly among the numerous social problems that await resolve.”

Even without further smoking countermeasures from the government, thanks to the recent increase in designated smoking areas, passive smoking is expected to become increasingly less of a problem. Even so, the Japanese government is pushing anti-smoking in a way that for many restricts individuals’ freedom, with some suggesting that laws should not be influenced by individual government members’ own pet hates.

Source: Nikkan Spa