Smoking in Japan is much less subject to bans than in many other nations, and Japan accounts for much of the tobacco consumption in Asia. Nearly 30 million people smoke in Japan, making the country one of the world's largest tobacco markets. Japan is one of the last industrialized nations in the world where adult smoking is still widespread; statistics show Japanese men smoke at one of the highest rates in the world. The smoking rate among adults is 29 percent, including 43 percent of men and 13 percent of women.
Until 1985, the tobacco industry was a government-run monopoly, and the government of Japan is still involved in tobacco advertising and etiquette campaigns. The Ministry of Finance controls 50.2 percent of Japan Tobacco, the world's third biggest tobacco company, turning over a profit of nearly $3 billion a year.
Non-smoking areas are not very common in restaurants, pachinko parlors and public areas, even in fast food or family restaurants. However, all trains either have non-smoking cars or are completely smoke-free, as are many train stations platforms in urban areas.
There is uniformity of price—a particular brand of cigarettes in Japan is the same across all vendors, from cigarette machines to big supermarkets to corner shops. In addition, bulk purchases are not discounted. The recent tobacco price increase was on average about one yen per cigarette, or 20 yen for a box. However, some brands went up in price by 30 yen per box.
Japanese women and smoking
While a high percentage of men smoke, the rate for women has not risen much beyond 10 percent. Traditionally, Japanese women who smoked were considered unfeminine. Those who did smoke would rarely, if ever, do so in public. The social stigma was rooted in the belief that motherhood is the purpose of a woman's life and smoking was harmful to children.
Since the mid 1990s, the number of female smokers has risen, among young women in particular. "The manufacturers were very successful in providing cool images to the consumers," says Ministry of Health and Welfare technical officer Yumiko Mochizuki, when asked to explain the steady rise in female smokers. "Until recently, the Ministry of Health and Welfare had an understanding that smoking was entirely up to the individual."
The government's advertising ban based on the "motherhood" argument was watertight until the tobacco industry was privatized in 1985. Advertising that encourages women to smoke is forbidden in Japan under a voluntary industry agreement. The industry group pledged to voluntarily honor the advertising ban and is charged with enforcing it. United States maker Brown & Williamson sells Capri cigarettes in Japan in slim white boxes with a flower-like design on the cover. R.J. Reynolds' Tokyo billboards for Salem's Pianissimo cigarettes are green-and-pink. Philip Morris advertised its Virginia Slims brand with the slogan "Be You" in an ad campaign.
Other factors contribute to the rise in female smokers. Some observers cite stress, saying that more Japanese women are smoking to relax as more enter the workforce. Others argue that smoking is one arena in which women can have equality with men. Media influence is also cited, as many women on popular Japanese television dramas smoke.
Prefectural and local differences
Unlike in Europe and North America, where smoking bans apply to many restaurants, bars and public areas, smoking is possible almost anywhere in Japan. There are few anti-smoking laws, as many politicians have interests in Japan Tobacco.
Many of the wards in Tokyo are applying anti-smoking and walking laws, such as Shinjuku and Shibuya. They have designated special smoking sections in areas and it is punishable by fine if caught smoking outside these areas. However this is only really enforced in more upscale areas, as the rest of the city it seems to not apply.
Japanese smoking culture
Japan has a sophisticated cigarette etiquette, which includes carrying portable ashtrays for stubs, and not walking while one smokes. The Japanese sensibility on smoking is more responsibility-based than law-based, reflective of the Japanese psyche.
Cigarettes can be bought in tobacco stores and at vending machines, and public ashtrays dot sidewalks and train platforms. The number of cigarette vending machines in Japan is estimated at 500,000.
The law prohibits the smoking of cigarettes by persons under the age of twenty. Taspo (タスポ?), formerly known as Tobacco Card (たばこカード tabako kādo?), is a smart card developed by the Tobacco Institute of Japan (TIOJ), the nationwide association of tobacco retailers (全国タバコ販売協同組合連合会 Zenkoku Tabako Hanbai Kyōdō Kumiai Rengōkai?), and the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association (日本自動販売機工業会 Nihon Jidōhanbaiki Kōgyōkai?). Introduced in 2008, the card is necessary in order to purchase cigarettes from vending machines in Japan. The name "Taspo" stands for "tobacco passport" (たばこのパスポート tabako no pasupōto?).
Japan Tobacco (JT) is concerned about the image of smokers and smoking in modern society. In an effort to improve said image, the company commissioned a series of over 70 public service announcement style 'smoking manner' posters designed to educate smokers about the finer points of smoking etiquette. All of the ads were rendered in the same green-on-white, iconographic format. These ads were displayed in a wide variety of formats ranging from placards in the subway to postcards to drink coasters.
Japanese smoking etiquette is at its most elaborate during an evening meal at a restaurant. Before ordering, it is customary to lean back and smoke one cigarette before deciding the order from the menu. Once the order has been placed, the smoker will finish their cigarette, and converse for a brief period of time. Once the first dish arrives, the smoker will light up once more, and smoke continuously throughout the meal. When the final dish arrives, the smoker puts out their cigarette and eats without distraction. Once the meal is finished, as per tradition, the smoker will lean back and light one more cigarette and smoke it slowly before concluding the dining experience.
- Smoking in Japan - Japan-guide.com (English)
- JT - SMOKERS STYLE (advertisements) (Japanese)
- aljazeera.net article
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