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Smoking bureaucrats find themselves on the outside looking in

13 Comments
People smoke in a designated area in Tokyo. Photo: REUTERS file

Once upon a time, the movers and shakers in the Japanese government made tobacco use a part of their public image. Shigeru Yoshida, a long-serving prime minister during the postwar years, was frequently photographed with teeth clenched on the stub of a cigar. Another, Ryutaro Hashimoto, was a chain smoker and seldom seen on TV news segments without a smoldering cigarette between his fingers.

In the present cabinet, Taro Aso, the current vice prime minister and finance minister, is known to favor cigars, while Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya also enjoys lighting up.

But oh how times have changed, notes Shukan Shincho (Aug 1). The once-familiar scenes of cabinet members conferring in a bluish haze of tobacco smoke are now a thing of the past.

The reason for this change was explained by a staff member of the Health Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, who said, "New regulations on passive smoking, which went into effect from July 1, have banned smoking at government offices."

"These regulations cover all ministries and agencies in the national bureaucracy, and also include offices of the ministers, vice ministers and other government officials," he added. "This indicates that efforts to protect from secondary smoke have been imposed with the encouragement and support of people at the top."

Walk along the streets of the Kasumigaseki district now, and you're unlikely to spot someone lighting up. Could it be, the magazine asks, that smokers have decided to take the opportunity to go cold turkey and quit for good?

Well actually it appears they are now strolling over to nearby Hibiya Park in order to light up.

As a frequently cited Chinese aphorism goes, "The higher-ups have policies, while the lower downs have their own ways of getting around them." 

In the case of the building housing the Ministry of Finance, smokers stroll over to the neighboring Kasumigaseki Building, which provides an outdoor patio for smokers.

"A near-panic ensued among the rank-and-file who were smoking when the minister himself dropped in to join them," relates a member of the cabinet office.

Meanwhile, the search has been ongoing for out of the way places where public servants can steal a smoke. 

"As the National Diet Building and various courts are treated as 'Class 2 facilities,' they will be exempt from the new law until April of next year," explains the aforementioned staffer of the Ministry of Health.

This may buy smokers in the district a little more time, but the writing is on the wall that they are destined to become "refugee smokers" before much longer.

One Minister in particular may be particularly unhappy about this development: Aso, who also happens to be a major shareholder of the Japan Tobacco Corporation. At least the ministry is said to be arranging to set up an outdoor area for determined smokers to engage in their habit.

It remains to be seen if Aso, who will no longer be permitted to smoke in his private office, will join his underlings for a puff out on the patio.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

13 Comments
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I remember when it happened at my workplace, mainly because the stained fingers smokers were really unhappy.

About 6 months later, new rules came out that smoking within 10m of the entrance was prohibited. On nice days, it wasn't an issue, but the building didn't have any covering away from the immediate entrances, smokers were very unhappy.

Welcome to 1990 smoking rules, Japan.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Stated in the article -

"...Aso, who also happens to be a major shareholder of the Japan Tobacco Corporation..."

I didn't know that.

Seems rather strange, given that the govt. is a major shareholder (33%) of JT.

And the govt. controlling authority of JT is the finance ministry.

And lo & behold who would be the Head of the Finance ministry - The Finance Minister of course, no other than Mr Aso himself.

Seems like a conflict of interest somewhere there for our still-smoking deputy PM.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

With the 2020 Olympics just around the corner, the press is on to make smoking even more unwelcome. Already there is talk that all bars and restaurants will be smoke-free well before the start of the games, and officially designated smoking areas are going to be even harder to find than they are now.

I smoke, but as they say above, the writing is on the wall, so it's pretty certain that soon I will have to stop. I guess that's a good thing. (My wife certainly thinks so!) However, I am cantankerous enough to resent being bullied into it.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Are these examples all Japan have ???.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

@Romaine Spence - a different perspective may help you get out of the "bullied rut".

My mother died from smoking (lung cancer) when she was 63 - My father who introduced her to smoking quit a about a month after because he saw how devastated the family was. We needed him and enjoyed time for another 20 years.

ie - don't worry about the bullies, family is more important.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I’ll be happy when cigarettes are completely obsolete. Nasty, stinking, bad for your health. Hope Japan keeps on these smokers and smokes them out for good.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The intelligent decision is not to smoke, so I gave it up. Doesn't change the fact that I am still addicted, and still love it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Adults should be allowed to harm themselves, provided they have all the available facts and don't cause harm to others or other people's property. Smoking, drinking, drugs, whatever. If an adult wants help to change their habit, great, but it needs to be their decision.

Nobody should force someone else to inhale their 2nd hand smoke.

Both my parents smoked, but stopped well before I was born. Dad never smoked again but Mom started back up at social events in her mid-50s and smoked into her 70s. The last month of her life, she required oxygen tubes, had no energy to do anything and shuffled between the bedroom and den.

Mom made a conscious decision to smoke. She also violated doctor's orders for some things she ate and she refused to give up alcohol completely. She said that living a life doing only what the doctors said wasn't living at all. She was wise.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

[quote]"In the case of the building housing the Ministry of Finance, smokers stroll over to the neighboring Kasumigaseki Building, which provides an outdoor patio for smokers.

"A near-panic ensued among the rank-and-file who were smoking when the minister himself dropped in to join them," relates a member of the cabinet office."[/quote]

So, the movers and shakers ARE still meeting together.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The supreme irony is that the only people who go outside for 'fresh air' are the smokers...who then get worse exposure to very virulent carcinogens from the odorless, invisible diesel exhaust swirling around them which contains all of the carcinogens of tobacco smoke and way more. Incidentally, campfire and forest fire smoke are exactly as carcinogenic as tobacco smoke. That 'smoke' causes lung cancer was known by the early arcaeologists long ago who studied the vanished Pueblo Indians of the American southwest and saw unequivocal evidence of epidemic lung cancer in the bones of these people and attributed it to the fact that the doors to their dwellings were in the roof which also served as the chimney for cooking and warming fires INSIDE of the Pueblo. But, as mentioned, 'secondhand' Diesel Exhaust is the supreme carcinogen in our air today. And if you can actually smell it, you've just smoked 10 cigarettes down to the nub... and whatever else is in our air, like what is in our water, is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS according to business. Humans...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It remains to be seen if Aso, who will no longer be permitted to smoke in his private office, will join his underlings for a puff out on the patio.

When your skin is leathery and your teeth are rotten, it's got to be telling you something. (Like, maybe quit smoking).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Agreed with Bass4Funk on something.. I guess there is common ground everywhere!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ban it in all restaurants. It is horrible.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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