Will the Tokyo Olympics End Public Smoking in Japan? The Pro and Con Arguments

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As someone who lives in a state in the United States where all public smoking is forbidden by law, I’m still taken aback when I walk into certain Japanese restaurants and kissaten (coffee bars) and am hit with a wave of cigarette smoke. After a couple of visits, I’ve adjusted (re-adjusted) to it, and have come to view it as a fact of life in modern Japan.

However, that may change rapidly. Facing pressure from the World Health Organization ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the Japanese government is considering a new set of regulations that would greatly curtail smoking [Japanese link]. Under the proposed law, smoking would be banned outright in public schools and public spaces. Eating and drinking establishments, as well as airports, would also face a ban, but would be able to institute smoking rooms. (Currently, some large restaurant chains in Japan already have some form of separate smoking room.)

It’s still unclear whether the legislation will pass, and in what form. Arguments for and against abound. On the pro-ban side, supporters point out the known health dangers of second hand smoke. Others argue that the reported phenomenon of 外食離れ (gaishoku banare, the flight from eating outside of the home) can in part be attributed to people not wanting to eat in smoke-filled stinkholes.

Writing on Excite (yes, Excite still exists), columnist Katsube Genki decries second hand smoke as a form of violence [Japanese], and counters the argument that those who don’t like second hand smoke should just find somewhere else to be dull and depressing instead of killing everyone else’s good time:

これに対して、「そんなにたばこの煙が嫌ならば禁煙のお店に行けば良いだけだろう」という反論をする人がいるかもしれませんが、それは日本の飲食店は非喫煙者を阻害しているという現状を無視した暴論です。食べログに掲載されている店舗数は2017年1月19日12時の時点で848,992店ですが、そのうち完全禁煙のお店は僅か127,761店に過ぎません。たった15.05%しか無いのです。

日本の喫煙人口は19.3%ですから、完全禁煙が約8割で、それ以外のお店が約2割というなら人口比的には公平なのかもしれません。ですが、84.95%ものお店が受動喫煙の被害に遭う状態であり、明らかに非喫煙者が受動喫煙という暴力に遭うケースのほうが多いのです。被害者側が被害に遭わないようにするために選択肢が5分の1以下に削られるというのは明らかに不公平だと言えるでしょう。

There may be people who retort “If you don’t like smoke that badly, maybe you should go to another store” to this, but that’s a bombastic argument that ignores the damage being done to non-smokers. As of January 19th 2017, there are some 848,992 stores cataloged on Tablelog [a Japanese equivalent of Yelp – ed.], but only 127,761 of those stores are completely smoke free. That’s only 15.05%.

Since only 19.3% of the population smokes, if 80% of stored banned smoking and 20% allowed it, that would, from a population perspective, be fair. But 84.95% of stores are inflicting second hand smoke damage on people, and there are many cases of people suffering damage due to second hand smoke. Whittling down the choices that victims need to make in order to avoid suffering damage to under 1 in 5 is clearly unfair.

Weighing in from the other side is the chairman of Yoshino Holdings, Abe Shuuji. (Yoshino Holdings owns and operates Yoshinoya, a Japanese chain restaurant.) Mr. Abe is himself a former smoker of many years who gave up the habit, but he argues that the economic damage that would be done to small stores is too severe to let the anti-smoking law pass:

JFが主張し、私も共感しているのは、飲食店は多様なメニューとともに、多様なサービスを提供する必要があるということ。そして、そのことによって、お客さまが好みに応じた店を「選択できる自由」を持つことが大事という考えです。喫煙もその一つであって、利用者にとって選択肢が多ければ多いほど、豊かな社会といえます。いまの日本は事業者の努力によって、豊富な選択肢がかなり実現できています。それをわざわざ原則禁止にするというのは、利用者の選択肢を狭めることになりはしないか。ここが、最も懸念するところなのです。

法案にあるように、喫煙室の設置によって利用者の選択肢を確保すればいいという意見もあるかもしれません。しかしいま、そのようなスペースと資金力がある大手企業は、既に禁煙あるいは分煙にしています。それができない個人営業の飲食店が、逆に愛煙家を囲い込むことで、大手チェーンに対抗する強みのひとつとしている側面もあります。そうした競争力を奪うという意味でも、個人営業の店主にとって「原則建物内禁煙」は、経営面で大きなダメージになると思うのです。

ルールを作るときに、「一律禁止」とするのは最も安易な方法ですが、果たしてそれでいいのでしょうか。ベストは、これまでのように、経営する側による自主努力とマーケットの判断にゆだねることです。禁煙者が多くなり、喫煙のニーズが減れば、個人営業の店も自ずと全面禁煙に切り替えていくでしょう。

I agree with JF [Nippon Food Service Kyoukai, the Japan Food Service Group] that, in addition to offering various options on their menus, companies should be able to offer various choices with regard to their services. And that means it’s important that companies have freedom of choice. Smoking is one such choice, and it could be said that the more choice that consumers have, the richer society becomes. In today’s Japan, thanks to the efforts of business people, that richness has been realized. To impose a general ban will do nothing but take that choice away from consumers. That would be a most upsetting situation.

There may be those who argue that, by allowing smoking areas, that choice is being preserved. But large companies with economic power have already banned smoking, or created separate smoking areas. Another angle on this is that being able to round up people who love smoking is one of the strengths held by stores that can’t afford such measures. For individual store operators, taking this power away from them will inflict substantial damage on their ability to operate.

When creating a rule, it’s easiest to just enact a uniform ban, but is that ultimately for the best? What’s best is to leave this to the effort of individual owners and to the judgment of the marketplace. There are a lot of non-smokers, and if the needs of smokers decrease, stores will likely move toward full bans in due course.

Given the tide of history in other countries, the mounting international pressure, and the sheer number of non-smokers in Japan, it’s likely some sort of ban will go into effect before 2020. It’s hard to drum up support for a habit with such obvious negative externalities as smoking. The question is whether the Abe administration or others in the Diet will append additional exemptions in favor of izakaya and other small eateries – which, as we discussed in our previous post, are already facing financial hardship in the face of changing economic and culinary habits. Given the potential threat to traditional Japanese businesses, and the opposition of people like Mr. Abe, I expect to see significant revisions to this proposal before it becomes law.

 

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