TOKYO (majirox news) – Smokers and non-smokers are locked in a battle for space in Tokyo. Smokers have recently gained the upper hand with the help of some convenience stores, despite the government’s efforts to encourage smokers to quit.
Japan’s government imposed a 40% tax hike in October 2010, which raised the cost of a pack of cigarettes from $3.60 to $4.90. Revenue from the tobacco tax increased last month, the first yearly increase since the tax was raised, according to the Nikkei Business Daily.
Furthermore, some of Tokyo’s wards have banned smoking on their streets. Some businesses have voluntarily taken steps to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke by banning the practice or by creating smoking rooms. Some stores and restaurants have also voluntarily banned smoking.
A few Seikatsu Saikas, a chain of convenience stores owned by Japan’s Poplar, have helped smokers. Instead of not allowing smoking, they built special smoking rooms that occupy about 1/3 of the store, where people can eat, drink and smoke. As a result, it led to an increase in cigarette sales.
“This is great,” says heavy smoker Yoshiki Hashimoto, a furniture mover in Tokyo. “The convenience stores are doing the right thing.”
Office workers at a nearby Seikatsu Saika in Akasaka, a residential and commercial area, agree. Throughout the day they visit the store. In many cases, they go after lunch because they cannot smoke at the restaurants. One of the store managers says they have achieved a complete separation of smoking areas.
“Nowadays many places, including hospitals, don’t have smoking areas inside or outside anymore,” Hashimoto says. “We can buy cigarettes at kiosks in the train stations but can’t smoke there. It doesn’t make sense.”
Hashimoto says even some sushi and ramen houses have no-smoking rules. However, family restaurants are divided into smoking and non-smoking areas. “In the future, restaurants have to have separate areas, otherwise we won’t have a place to smoke anymore,” he says.
Long-time Tokyo resident Patrick King agrees. But was not impressed with a special smoker’s room installed in one of Lotteria’s, a Japanese chain of fast-food restaurants similar to McDonalds. He took his sister and nephew there once for a quick cup of coffee to when they were visiting Tokyo from California.
“When our feet got tired, we went there and were amazed by it,” he says. “I suspect not only are they trying to make smokers go into this special room, but they’re trying to shame them into quitting at the same time. It was the nearest I’ve seen to a sensory deprivation tank outside of the movies.”
Besides Lotterias, upscale coffee shops and restaurants that allow smoking are making it their selling point. A number of restaurants have stickers hanging on their entrances saying they have separate areas for smokers and non-smokers. In fact, PHP Institute Office, a publisher, sells maps of streets and places you can smoke. They have already sold 19,000 since last December. Smart phones also provide an application where you can retrieve similar data.
Not to be outdone by the convenience stores, other small-scale shops in central Tokyo are considering building smoking rooms.
At the same time, more non-smoking areas could increase. While Japan doesn’t have nationwide ban in place, there are a few local ordinances. Currently, smoking is not allowed on the streets of the Chiyoda, Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Nakano wards of Tokyo. Although smoking is banned on public transportation, there isn’t anyone policing it. Kanagawa Prefecture implemented the country’s first prefecture-wide smoking ban in April 2010, banning smoking in public facilities, including hospitals, schools and government officess. .
Approximately 24 percent of Japanese people smoke or about 25 million Japanese citizens, according to a 2010 survey by Japan Tobacco. Of that 24 percent, Japanese men make up 26.6 percent and women make up roughly 12 percent.
It looks like the battle will continue into the future.