Fukuoka Smokers to Cough Up, No Whiffs, No Butts by Chris Flynn
The collage of cigarette butts adorning the footpaths, and smoke erupting from overfilled street-side ashtrays are soon to become history when a smoking ban is introduced in Fukuoka City. Smokers will no longer be able to light up on the streets when the new “morals and manners” ordinance banning people from puffing in public is implemented.
After debating the issue, the Fukuoka City Council passed the “Creation of a People Friendly Fukuoka” ordinance in December last year. The new bylaw, which started out as an attempt to clear the streets of brothel ads and illegally parked bicycles, was extended to smokers following a precedent set in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. The ordinance asks people to “make an effort” to refrain from smoking in the street, and designates areas where a penalty of not more than 20,000 yen will be imposed on those lighting up. The regulation also advises smokers to carry portable ashtrays when outdoors. As in Chiyoda Ward, busy areas will be designated as smoke-free, and city officers will pursue smokers, handing them 2,000 yen fines on the spot.
Chiyoda Ward provided a one-month transition period before fines. It is anticipated that late this summer, areas surrounding Tenjin and Hakata Station will be designated smoke-free. Tsutomu Mitsuyasu is one of six Fukuoka City LDP councillors behind the conception of the ordinance: “We are not telling people that they can’t smoke, but there is a right place and proper etiquette,” he explains. “The aim of the regulation is to try and clean up Fukuoka, ridding it of unsightly cigarette butts, ads for the sex industry and other such eyesores, but the tobacco issue is the one that gets all the attention.” The local councilor also points out that health issues have no bearing on the ordinance, which is solely concerned with “morals and manners.” However, when pressed on the question of prohibiting smoking on school grounds, Mitsuyasu has commented that itﾕs a matter of “one step at a time,” and that “this ordinance must gain acceptance first.” With the Mayor and the City Assembly voting nearly unanimously for the bill, acceptance seems inevitable, despite anticipated protests by Japan Tobacco and the Tobacco Retailers Association.
When City Hall implements the new regulation, you can expect a media fanfare as cameramen flock behind the puff police, salivating at the thought of the first smoker fined – his mosaiced-out face soon to grace the headline news. Smokers will be forced to seek refuge in designated areas indoors, or perhaps one of the JT sponsored “Smoke-cars” that have appeared in Chiyoda Ward. The non-smoking ordinance joins the Fire Prevention Law and the law prohibiting minors from smoking as part of Japan’s meager legislation on smoking. There are no laws banning smoking in the workplace, at schools or even in hospitals. Nor are there any protecting people from passive smoking this despite 95,000 Japanese dying from smoking-related diseases every year, and the subsequent economic loss reaching seven trillion yen annually. Unfortunately, the government-owned Japan Tobacco is a formidable political and economic force providing two trillion yen worth of tax income annually (Fukuoka City gets 10 billion yen). Why, then, tackle smoking on the streets?
Here’s my theory. To complain about smoking in the workplace would break the “wa,” and destroying harmony is a serious social crime in Japan, no matter what damage it is doing to your health. At the same time people must have good manners, and there is no excuse for throwing butts on the ground. In the office, you are part of the group, on the street, you are an individual – the responsibility is yours and cannot be passed onto the group. This bizarre logic has led Fukuoka (and Chiyoda Ward) to impose simultaneously some of the most lenient and strictest smoking laws in the world.
If the Chiyoda experience is anything to go by, people who fearlessly look lung cancer in the face are not likely to be so brave when it comes to a 2,000 yen fine. Smoking on the streets of Chiyoda Ward has practically disappeared and dropped butts are rare. Doomsday prophets warned of empty streets when the by-law was enforced in Tokyo, but I think they were the same people who said that a smoke-free Starbucks was doomed in Japan. Do desho?