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