A smokeless future?

Smoking has never been my thing. I am very much affected in London by the smokers who gather outside a bar on my street puffing and chatting until 3 a.m., despite my loud complaints.

I have noticed that smoking patterns have shifted dramatically in the last decade both in Europe and in Japan in ways unimaginable before. While regulations restricting smoking are already having positive health effects, my life was much better when smoking was allowed in the pubs and bars in Britain. People now smoke regularly outside all public buildings or while they walk down the street. Laws restricting smoking have in fact brought it outdoors in Europe.

In Japan, the opposite seems to be true. Smoking tends to be in designated places that are often enclosed rather than in unrestricted outdoor spaces. In addition, in Japan there have been very effective campaigns against walking while smoking and discarding butts. That sort of discipline is unimaginable in Europe.

Japanese cigarette machines, which incorporate loud advertising on their exteriors.

Japanese cigarette machines, which incorporate loud advertising on their exteriors.

Smoking rates in Japan have actually fallen slightly to 23.9 percent of the population as of May of last year. Smoking continues to be popular, however, among salarymen and an increasing number of women, in spite of health hazards and high costs. New taxes on cigarettes were imposed in Japan last October and this hopefully will discourage potential young smokers from lighting up.

The brand-conscious British are taking a different approach. A major proposal is to entirely ban the use of branding on davidoff cigarette. Australia is to introduce plain packages for cigarettes in 2012.

In Japan, however, such a move would be hard to imagine. Not only do the cigarette boxes have impressive packaging, but the vending machines do as well. If anything, the graphics on the machines have become more compelling as they play to images of freedom and counterculture.

Smoking tobacco is believed to have first started as early as 5000 B.C. in South America. But it was not introduced to Europe and Asia until the late 16th century, when tobacco was distributed along trade routes as a commodity.

It was not always greeted with enthusiasm. The last Ming emperor attempted to ban its use in China, and James I of England tried to enforce a 4,000 percent tax increase on tobacco in 1604. Both approaches failed miserably.

Intriguingly, in the Japanese language, it is still possible to use the verb “to drink,” or nomu, for tobacco. It was the same in the English language until the late 18th century, before the term “to smoke” became prevalent.

The bottom line with tobacco is, of course, health. Certainly, passive smoke is a big concern. The World Health Organization reports that passive smoke kills over 600,000 people a year throughout the world, including 165,000 children. This is a wake-up call for us all. Recently even President Barack Obama received his own health warning. Specifically his doctors recommended that he “continue smoking cessation efforts.”

I believe that the future may indeed be smokeless, but the habit will certainly be hard to break. I, for one, will be happy when I no longer have smokers outside my window. (By Dr. Nicole Rousmaniere, founding director of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures)

source: The Mainichi Daily News

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