Japan Government’s Anti-Smoking Message Undercut by Massive Tobacco Income

By Bryan Le 06/26/17

Opponents of an indoor smoking ban point out the hypocrisy of an anti-smoking bill by a government that makes billions off tobacco sales a year.

A Japanese izakaya in Tokyo.
Opponents of the ban fear it could drive small restaurants, the last bastions for public smoking, out of business.

In preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese health ministry is pushing for a ban on smoking inside all public buildings—but critics are quick to point out that the government rakes in about $18 billion USD a year in tobacco taxes and owns a third of Japan Tobacco, the world’s fourth-largest cigarette manufacturer.

Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party opposes the ban, with tobacco farmers and the restaurant industry rallying by its side. They argue that this ban could run thousands of small bars, restaurants and izakayas (popular casual after-work gastropubs) out of business as their cigarette-loving customers are forced to step outside for a smoke.

The Japanese health ministry claims that most of the 15,000 passive smoking deaths a year happen in these small enclosed eateries. This campaign is another in a long line of battles with smoking by the health ministry, which has overseen a reduction in the national smoking rate from over 50% in 2000 to around 18% in 2015. In larger cities like Tokyo, smoking on the street has been banned, so smokers have had to head inside to these small restaurants to light up. If this ban passes, smoking could be sequestered to people’s own homes.

Neither side is budging in negotiations. The Liberal Democratic Party demands that the law be weakened only to require businesses to post a smoking or non-smoking sign outside their premises, but the health ministry feels this won’t do much to curb passive smoking. Instead, the health ministry proposes smaller establishments be exempt from the ban.

Some experts, including Mark Levin at the University of Hawaii, feel that the Liberal Democratic Party’s concern that izakayas could be run out of business by the ban is unfounded. Levin says that not only would these restaurants survive the ban, they may thrive as “most customers appreciate clean air.”

Japanese citizens may soon run out of places to smoke, but as long as izakayas are around they will always have a place to have after work drinks—as long as they don’t go overboard. One Japanese mayor banned all 20,000 of his city employees from any public drinking after a catalog of drunken behavior.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter