"When I smoked here, I was issued a warning by a street patrol," the 50-ish man tells Weekly Playboy (May 3). "Anyway the next day I went back to the same spot for a smoke. I wish there were more places around here where smoking is permitted."
To engage in his habit, he had found an isolated nook at the foot of an office building in west Shinjuku where people weren't likely to notice.
It seems that from April 2020, the routines of smokers were greatly disrupted, thanks to the bill for the amendment of the Health Promotion Law going into effect. The new regulations effectively ban smoking indoors. Moreover, on the same day Tokyo Prefecture put into effect a passive smoker prevention ordinance that, among other things, prohibits an employee of an establishment that serves food and beverages from smoking on the premises.
The above effectively leave smokers with a dearth of designated smoking places. What's more, measures to enforce social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic have caused many of these spots to be shut down for the duration.
Hard data is difficult to come by, but a survey by a marketing firm conducted last February found that 69% of the respondents agreed places available for them to light up had declined in number. As a woman in her 30s, working in sales, puts it, "Unless you are savvy to the neighborhood, finding a place to smoke takes a lot of effort."
A male systems engineer in the same age group remarked, "I start feeling grouchy while I waste time hunting for a place to light up. When I take business trips, along with checking the train connections I also use an app to confirm the places where I'll be allowed to smoke."
According to the aforementioned survey, since the new law went into effect, 59% of smokers said they have had the experience of searching for a place to smoke, and about 75% replied they now tend to devote more time to the endeavor.
The searches aren't always successful. One man employed in the IT sector said he might be forced to sneak into the corner of a parking lot or other out-of-the-way spot for a smoke. "There's no place to smoke around the station where I commute, so I'm lighting up more frequently while walking to the station," he said.
More people engaging in aruki tabako (smoking while walking) means more discarded butts on the ground. An employee of the Shinjuku Ward Sanitation Department tells the magazine, "From last April more people were discarding butts on the streets. What's more, they buy canned coffee beverages, use the cans as ashtrays and then toss the cans. The situation has particularly worsened around Nishi Shinjuku. We're taking added countermeasures, including boosting patrols."
Just to the west of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building is Shinjuku Central Park, the only "oasis" for smokers in the immediate area.
"On some days around lunch break, I can count about 300 people standing there smoking. Most of them seem to be government workers," says a member of the smoking patrol.
To add insult to injury, from April 8, the park's smoking corner was ordered closed between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Of course, we should not ignore that the Tokyo government is also paying out subsidies for property owners to set up corners for smokers. In the three years from 2018 to 2020, the number of subsidies paid out were 17, 144 and 50, respectively.
But in busy spots like around Shinjuku Station, smoking spots are few and far between.
"We've received requests from people asking to make more spaces available," says the aforementioned sanitation department worker. "But others in the vicinity complain about the smoke fumes and litter left behind by the smokers."
Shigeo Kobayashi, professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, favors a solution that would temporarily relax restrictions related to the corona pandemic and adopt more flexible standards.
He concedes, however, that it's hard to defend smokers who leave a mess in their wakes.
"In order to protect the rights of smokers, it's important for smokers first of all to mind their manners," Kobayashi says.© Japan Today