Oct 15, 2018

Tobacco in Restaurants in Japan

Tobacco in Restaurants in Japan photo

In our local Daiso, I noticed these signs, but mostly the lack of NO Smoking signs. I thought they might just be out of those, but on my next visit, things hadn't changed.

From my experience, smokers don't need a sign telling them that smoking is allowed. In fact, I see people smoking right in front of No Smoking signs on a weekly basis.

Since I can remember, I've hated smoking. Smoking regulations in Japan are so different from in the US. Since the early 80s smoking in public places and restaurants has been illegal in the state I grew up in. There's also a law against smoking near the entrance to public buildings and in a car with children now. I agree with these strict laws, seeing as smoking killed around 7 million people worldwide last year.

About 130,000 deaths each year in Japan are a result of tobacco use, 11.5% of which are estimated to be because of secondhand smoke. There hasn't been proper anti-tobacco compliance, despite Japan's participation in The World Health Organisation's global tobacco treaty.

Although the government is still intertwined with the country's main tobacco producer, some local governments are eager to curb tobacco use in public places. For example, in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo and in parts of Kyoto Prefecture, it's illegal to smoke while walking down the street. I do appreciate this because smoking outdoors is not so restricted back home.

The thing that really gets on my nerves here is allowing smoking in restaurants.

I kind of understand smoking in bars, izakaya or clubs. We can choose to avoid these places and they're meant for adults and only open late at night. The problem is the family restaurants. For restaurants intended for families and children, I can't understand the loosely defined 'smoking sections.'

I've been seated in the non-smoking section of a family restaurant, but the table was literally touching a table in the smoking section. It made me upset that I still had to eat next to smokers when I was in a non-smoking section.

I feel like restaurant design has been changing to make separated sections with walls and better ventilation for smoking areas, but I still don't enjoy going to restaurants with any smoking allowed. More and more, I'm choosing to speak with my wallet and avoid restaurants that allow smoking.

Some restaurants entirely restrict smoking, and I enjoy my experience much more. They are mostly targeting women who want to go with young children or meet friends.

Smoking is seen as a men's vice in Japan. About 20% of adults in Japan are smokers, but the group of men aged 30-50 years old are almost 30% smokers. They are the minority, yet the rest of us are exposed to secondhand smoke.

It seems anti-smoking and health education for children has gradually helped to change the image of smoking here, but I'm concerned about the increasing use of e-cigarettes for young people. When I see women smoking in Japan, I feel it's a little rare and more disgusting somehow. I think this is mostly due to the fact that pregnant women who smoke can harm their unborn children, but any parent who smokes is a bad influence on their children.

When I hear that some doctors tell patients they should quit smoking, even though the doctors themselves are smokers, it seems so strange. The same goes for teachers. Those two professions seem like such hypocrites if they smoke. The new ban on indoor smoking at hospitals and schools doesn't prevent doctors or teachers from smoking outside, barely avoiding the view of patients and students.

The effort to increase tobacco free spaces before the Tokyo Olympics seems half-hearted, but the small change is welcome.



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