Japan 2008 Smoking Statistics

Danny Choo is a guestblogger on Boing Boing. Danny resides in Tokyo, and blogs about life in Japan and Japanese subculture - he also works part time for the empire.
dannychoo_smoking.jpg The smoking stats for 2008 in Japan are up at the Japan Health Promotion and Fitness Foundation site. Statistics show that 39.5% of Japanese male adults smoke - in a slightly better shape than 1966 where 83.7% (!) where smokers. Males in their 40's smoked the most - 47.8% of them. As for adult females - 12.9% are smokers - most of them being in their 30's. Complaining does not really achieve much in life so I tend not to moan about the fact that everybody in Tokyo *seems* to smoke. There are very few restaurants in Tokyo with non-smoking sections and even if there are then it looks something like you see in the photo above. I approached the entrance and asked if they had non-smoking sections and they said yes. I was lead to the small round table you see on the left of the photo - the smoking section is where the guy reading the newspaper is... After working for Amazon in the Tokyo offices for a few years, I spent about 5 months in the Seattle offices - loved the fact that most restaurants were non-smoking. Came back to Japan to take up passive smoking again but the readily available otaku merchandise more than made up for that ;-) So, even if you don't smoke - you will be guaranteed to smoke passively in Japan whether you rike it or not. I guess the price of cigarettes over here helps - a pack of cigarettes in Japan costs between 2 and 3 USD for a pack of 20. Are non-smokers in your region treated well or expected to passive smoke? News and photo plucked from my News Items. Related Smoker awareness campaign at Kirainet.


  1. mhmm…touchy. terrible subject. folks in portland oregon, as far as i can tell, are expected to be passive smokers. second- and third-hand, no choice there.

  2. As soon as any actual scientific evidence exists that second hand smoke causes any issue, I’ll give a shit. Until then, take your correlation = causality studies and stick ’em where the sun don’t smoke.

  3. Colorado banned indoor smoking for most businesses (pretty much any place except tobacco shops or shops that sell a certain amount of tobacco) a couple years ago. While it’s certainly a welcome change for non-smokers, I don’t think it was particularly necessary, since most restaurants I had been to before the ban were very good about dividing smoking and non-smoking areas.

    Since I occasionally smoke a pipe, I don’t mind secondhand smoke as much as some people, but for those with asthma or other respiratory diseases, I can understand why it is important to create safe places for non-smokers.

  4. DIMMER, it doesn’t matter whether or not second hand smoke causes health problems. The main problem is that it just plain literally stinks. It is nothing less than a physical assault. Smokers, it seems, will never, ever understand that.

    If I walked around squirting water (a perfectly harmless substance) at strangers sooner or later I’d get punched in the face, but to go around blowing smoke in people’s faces is somehow expected to be acceptable.

  5. HEADCODE, doesn’t necessarily stink… Depends on what type of tobacco you’re smoking. Some varieties can be quite aromatic, not to mention the various flavored tobaccos. But I do agree that many, many cheap cigarette brands stink like nobody’s business…

  6. Oh grow up Dimmer, I’m not saying that it should be like some countries where there are non-smoking rented flats, you should do whatever you want at home.

    If you go to a country where everyone smokes (like Greece) and come home from work smelling like you were in a bar because everyone has an ashtray on their desk then it kinda bugs you. When you enter a bar where 9 out of 10 smoke then the definition of passive is challenged a lot. Try opening those same bars the next morning, they reek of last night’s tobacco.

    I’m not the one to forbid people smoking in my house (I just close the doors to my bedroom) but I do wish smoking in closed public spaces was banned. For the record, that’s what will supposedly happen here in Greece next summer but by leaving loopholes large enough to render it useless.

  7. Move to any city in Ontario Canada, you will find that smoking is banned almost everywhere. Now you cannot even smoke in your own car if you have children with you. You have to be 25-50 feet from entrances of public buildings. Bars have adjusted or just closed out right. One club had an illegal covered porch, which had clasped and they lost their liquor license. So I would say Japan is a little bit different than my region of the world eh


  8. Pretty strict here in Queensland Australia, bars can only have a small designated outdoor smoking area, no food is allowed there. Some places you just have to go out and smoke on the street. Oh and you’re not allowed to smoke within 4 meters of a public entranceway.

    I like how you end all these posts with a question.

  9. Not a smoker, but there’s no way smoking is a “physical assault.” If so, then the next time someone is smoking around you, go ahead and punch them in the mouth. Then explain to the judge you were acting in self defense.

    The distinction between blowing smoke “into” someone’s face and smoking in someone’s vicinity is obvious. You blow smoke into somebody’s face, you probably would get decked.

    IMO, business owners should be allowed to decide whether or not to allow smoking in their establishments. If you don’t want to breathe smoke, take your business elsewhere.

  10. CONCERNED CITIZEN, maybe there are some kinds of tobacco that don’t smell fouler than the emissions from a bucket of rotting fish, but I’ve never encountered them. Being in a room with smokers was unpleasant enough, but then having to go and thoroughly wash everything I was wearing at the time to get rid of the persistent foul stink just made me angry. I find it very hard to believe that passive smoking is completely harmless, because it’s well established what the smoke does to the person inhaling it so surely there must be some level of ill effect to the other people nearby, even if it’s not particularly significant, but even if passive smoking is completely harmless it’s still disgusting.

    Fortunately here in the UK, it’s illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces and workplaces. Restaurants don’t have no smoking sections because it’s illegal to smoke throughout. Pubs have to send smokers into the beer garden or out onto the street. It is simply fantastic, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Now we just need to get people to stop smoking in the street and at bus stops… it’s still unpleasant to walk along behind someone puffing away, or to have someone sit next to you on the bus who’s just been smoking at the stop, like the worst kind of BO imaginable.

    Of course to do that we’d need to get everyone to stop smoking… worthwhile, but difficult.

  11. I just can’t get over the sheer number of people who seem to want to enact laws in order to prevent people from doing anything they consider unpleasant.

  12. There’s a pretty well-known story about how US tobacco companies wound up agreeding to all the anti-smoking regulation in the US, only because the US Gov’t would help promote smoking abroad. As you can see, it’s been quite the success. $2 a pack? The Japanese can be virulent anti-smokers as Americans, but at that price, maybe not so much.

  13. I actually enjoyed having the choice to smoke in restaurants in Japan (while pretty much all of Europe is now non-smoking) … I don;t smoke that much .. but I enjoy a smoke after a meal … and prefer not to have to stand in the cold rain i.e.

    What I find more interesting is the general smoking behaviour in Tokyo .. in most districts you cannot walk around waving a lit cigarete, you are asked to stick to an ashtray at the sidewalk … and people often have their portable achtrays, so you hardly see any cig butts on the sidewalks (unlike Italy, where cig butts mingle with dog poo)

  14. The really bizzarre thing is that it is illegal to smoke on the street in some areas of tokyo. in shibuya there is a shop that you go into to smoke (they sell cigarettes)

    and there are little designated smoking areas next to the train station. .. outdoors.

  15. I’m very happy with the smoking ban in the UK. I can go to a pub or restaurant and I don’t need to wash my hair and clean all my clothes. I can go to a nightclub, and I won’t feel ill afterwards.

    Before the smoking ban came in, I’d have a dry throat and a cough just from the passive smoking. I still get this, if I chat to someone who is smoking.

  16. Tokyo sounds great. Ohio wasn’t too bad either til about 2yrs ago, but now it’s all non smoking.However I have noticed in areas where the whole block is mostly bars/restaurants, there is definitely more cigarette butt litter than there was before. Personally though I wish it was back to the old way, where whether an establishment was smoking or not was the decision of the proprietor.

  17. @12 Smoking infringes the rights of others – the right being the choice of whether or not to inhale poisonous fumes and have your clothes stink.

    Seriously, I’m not sure smokers get this, so I’ll say again, simply: Smoking stinks. Bad. Yes. Really, really, BAD.

    If you are a smoker, rest assured that every non-smoker who’s close to you can tell. We might be too polite to say it to your face, but we’re likely thinking to ourselves that you smell terrible, and we’d like to get away from you if it were socially acceptable, or we didn’t have a good reason for being where we were.

    I really don’t get this. Smoking is toxic. Really toxic – it’s proven to contain carcinogens (that’s stuff that causes cancer, for the hard of thinking) and a whole cocktail of other chemicals, many of which are poisonous. If I walked around, or sat in restaurants or bars, leaking car exhaust or any other kind of toxic fume, I’d be kicked off the premises in short order. If I were coated in filth, or giving of any other kind of strongly unpleasant smell, the same again. Yet somehow smokers believe they have a god-given right to subject the rest of us to the smell and health consequences of their addiction, as well as an ashtray to leave their waste in.

    Hate smoking. The owner of one of my favourite bars here (Japan) was telling me earlier tonight that smoking may soon be banned in public places here as it is in many other countries. Couldn’t come soon enough – gas yourself on your own time, thanks.

  18. @17 Yeah, I agree, Ohio sucked until 2 years ago when voters saw through the tobacco industry-sponsored ruse that would have legislated the existence of indoor smoking areas in all restaurants.

    I grew up with a smoking parent for the 1st 13 years of my life and am not intolerant due to underexposure or allergies. I just hate and can readily detect tobacco smoke.

    One thing I hate more than second-hand smoke are people who wax nostalgic about how good smoking was in bad-old days.

  19. I live in Kentucky, not far from tobacco fields. Smoking is permitted by law most places, but is being phased out business by business. The over 65 crowd no longer hangs out at the Walmart Pharmacy to smoke. But the bars will keep on smoking: we get a lot of business from Ohio smokers. So it’s always a coin toss what you will find at any store or restaurant.

    As a side note, I bought my wife with 100 Camels. Framed 5 packs and gave them to my father-in-law who smoked at the time. He suggested I overpaid.

  20. Just because you hate something (because of the smell in this case, or unproven health concerns) isn’t a reason to start passing restrictive laws. I’m a smoker, and while I don’t mind restaurants, train stations, offices etc being non-smoking, there are things that don’t make sense. I’d like to smoke in a bar, I like the big ol’ boozy cloud (yet I don’t try to mandate that you smoke). I also don’t understand why there aren’t any smokers lounges anymore. I have to go nine floors down to catch a smoke at work, or wade through security again to catch a smoke at the airport. Wouldn’t a sealed, separate room with smoke eaters be better idea? Jersey wants to be ban smoking in your car because .01% (or some such) of the 13% of accidents cause by “distraction” are caused my smoking. Some places have banned smoking in your own home.

    Its annoying smoking is an entirely legal activity, but the smokers Legal and personal behaviors are increasingly dictated by law. Last I checked laws that dictate personal behaviors based on moral positions and personal opinion were considered a bad thing.

  21. Amazingly, in Brazil, a developing country whose social and economical indicators come nowhere near Japan’s, smoking went down 25% between 2003 and 2007, and now stand’s at a low 16% of the population. It’s visibly changing, and people, government and public establishments are becoming increasingly intolerant with cigarette smoke.

    Without a doubt the government’s aggressive anti-smoking campaign, which has been licensed to other countries, is one of the biggest causes for this. It consists of:

    – Pictures of the consequences of smoking, such as tracheotomies, amputations, abortions and erectile disfunctions on the packs of any tobacco products. (Link: http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/Brasil/0,,MUL579986-5598,00-GOVERNO+LANCA+NOVAS+IMAGENS+PARA+EMBALAGENS+DE+CIGARRO.html
    Link: http://www.picarelli.com.br/clipping/clip24102003a.htm)

    – A total ban on smoke ads in the media, except at the point of sale, where it is limited to small spaces.

    – Stricter laws.

  22. BTW, here in Brazil, a poor country, even with very high taxes, cigarretes cost $1.50-1.70 at most, with a lot of low-end brands under $1.00.

  23. I’m a mostly ex-smoker (I enjoy the occasional cigar or quality pipe tobacco with an adult beverage), and even if second hand smoke isn’t dangerous, cigarette smoke smells nasty. I don’t blame people for not wanting to smell it, though I wish they had made a distinction between your regular run-of-the-mill restaurant and bars and clubs.

    I know a guy that owns a bar downtown, and even though there’s a smoking ban in effect here he allows any patron to smoke inside, wherever they please. He says it’s better to make $6000 in sales and pay a $1000 fine every night instead of making $3000 in sales. I can completely see not being able to smoke in a regular restaurant though.

    I also worked in a pool hall as a second job (I was paid in table time and beer!), and within two months after the smoking ban went into effect the place was closed after 20 years.

    And just FYI, last time I looked a pack of Marlboros here cost $4.19 or so.

  24. @15:

    The really bizzarre thing is that it is illegal to smoke on the street in some areas of tokyo.

    And they have cute signs that show you where smoking is a-OK:


    Smoking was also prohibited on some bridges, I guess so people don’t throw butts into whatever might be below (river, people, etc.).

  25. Reasons why the JP government hasn’t cracked down on smoking:

    1. Japan Tobacco (motto: Meet Your Delight! ), the major tobacco company is still 50% owned by the Ministry of Finance.

    2. Most salarymen smoke. Take away or tax heavily the pleasures of your worker ants, and they are going to punish you heavily at the polls.

    3. Everyone loves Marlboro Man billboards and doesnt associate them with cowboys dying of lung cancer

    4. Since Koizumi, every LDP government elected have been right wing simpletons, like Abe & Aso, more concerned with pushing revisionist barrows than effective government, and whose approval ratings, at around 10%, were far too low to consider ever touching something controversial like tobacco tax.

    5. back in 2001 when Koizumi’s gov’t decided to hike to tobacco tax a small amount, Japan Tobacco got 6 million people to sign a petition against it..

    On the bright side for non-smokers in Japan, after Finance Minister Nakagawa’s hilarious drunken press conference showed people exactly how much the LDP cared about looking after the country in its worst post-war recession, my call is that LDP will be out before the end of the year.. and maybe, just maybe, the DPJ will do what is needed..

  26. I fucking hate hate HATE people who smoke as they walk. I really want to punch them in the face. In between classes I have to use the same paths everyone else does to make it to my next one in time (our campus is made up of dozens of buildings concentrated into a city block) and these people have no consideration for the fact that I have to walk directly into their noxious fumes because they couldn’t take the time to sit in a bench away from other people to satisfy their addiction.

    And hanging out with my friend with asthma is complicated enough as he has to avoid being out in the colder months lest the sub-zero temperatures spark an attack. But the smoker population just makes it impossible sometimes to hang out in some places.

  27. @RYUTHROWSSTUFF Unproven health claims?? What are you, personally, smoking (and maybe you should lay off it…) ?


    “I’m a smoker, and while I don’t mind restaurants, train stations, offices etc being non-smoking, there are things that don’t make sense. I’d like to smoke in a bar, I like the big ol’ boozy cloud (yet I don’t try to mandate that you smoke). I also don’t understand why there aren’t any smokers lounges anymore.”

    Well you, mate, might enjoy the “big ‘ol boozy cloud”, but then you’re a smoker, aren’t you? Let me tell you, the rest of us don’t. And if you’re smoking, then you ARE in fact mandating that I smoke – because I have to inhale just the same shit you do you, after you’re done with it.

    Regarding smokers lounges – fine by me. There are, here in Japan, little enclosed cubicles for smokers, with fans in them. I’d just as soon free premises owners from the extra expense though, and require smokers to step outside when they smoke – and stand 10m or more away from the entrance (smoking laws – something Australia got right).

    Are the same people who doubt the health consequences of smoking also the climate-change skeptics? Because that would make a lot of sense to me.

  28. i am a smocker, a heavy smoker. on top of that i am a medic too. i know that smoking is bad for your health and there should be no doubts about passive smoking too. passive smoking is not as dangerous as the media makes it to be (like enter a smoke filled room and you die) but on the long run it does affect people’s health specially if they have a health condition of their own.

    so i am totally for banning smoking on each and every public building like hospitals, airports, bus stations and in all places of work public and private. those are places where personal choices do not matter. everybody has the right to a clean workplace, hospital, a clean airport and the right to not be asphyxiated in a bus.

    BUT (and it is a big but) you cannot and should not ban smoking in places like bars and clubs. those are places where noone is obbligated to enter. those places you can decide to opt out. you do not have a right to have a beer in a NON smoking ambient if the owner of the place feels that he wants to smoke in his own place. it is not your right to ban smoking in my house. if you have asthma or you are pregnant you do not have a “right” to go for a beer in a pub and pretend that no one smokes, unless the bar is owned by the goverment and paid with taxpayer money. it is a personal choice and if you must,you should find a non smoking bar not impose your needs to the rest of the population.

    an “anonymous” guy gave the example of Greece. i’m Greek too but i live in Italy and saw what the no smoke law in practice so i know what he’s talking about. the mentioned Greek “loopholes” would allow bar owners to choose if their bars will be entirely smoking or no smoking. the UE asks for all places open to the public being non smoker but with an optional “smoker room”. so if you can’t afford it you should be a non smoker place like it or not. the Greek loophole would allow a bar to be entirely smoking (with the warning signs on the door, like enter this place at you own risk). this is because the rules to be UE compliant are so strict that no one can afford to have a “non smoking room” so most bars\pubs\restaurants would opt for being exclusively non smoking and since most greeks smoke it would be bad for business.

    such loophole would not be valid for public spaces where smoking would be banned (rightly so) as the UE wants.

  29. @ #3 ROBULUS:

    Read through that article: you’ll see it’s full of “Evidence suggests”, not “Evidence proves”.

    @ # 33: you think that you can be affected by second hand smoke in an open air situation? That’s way beyond crazy. Do some research.

    Does smoking cause an odor? Sure. So do car exhausts, IBS, garlic, etc. etc. Go back a few decades and if you didn’t smell like smoke there was something wrong with you.

    Also @ # 33: one of the recommended treatments for asthmatic attacks is, of course, to suck on a cigarette. Also works for constipation.

  30. I’m not going to dip into the ongoing argument that’s going on, but I would like to say that I absolutely hate second hand smoke yet every bar/restaurant I have been to in Japan that’s full of smokers never bothers me. I think they must have excellent ventilation systems, even in small izakayas, ’cause I can be sitting next to a handful of smokers at the bar and it just doesn’t get to me.

  31. I fucking hate hate HATE people who smoke as they walk. I really want to punch them in the face.

    Well I fucking hate people who wear too much perfume as they walk past, but I don’t feel the need to act all superior about my lack of B.O.

  32. Passive smoking in Japan?! Common, what are you talking about???

    Have you been on the streets of Tokyo recently? Almost all the public places outside are non-smoker!! And I absolutely love it!!!!

    Even when a Japanese want to smoke near you he will ask you 100 times if it’s ok with you!! Even if you are a gaijin!

  33. #2 – I agree. Someone prove second hand smoke is a problem, then i’ll give a shit and pander to people’s whingings about it.

    That said: pubs, clubs, ANYWHERE publixc and indoor has a total smoking ban in Australia, most states do.

    Not yet at the “not in doorways” level of absurdity, although gov’t buildings have a 10m rule – away from windows or entrances, whether they open or not. That affects me, working in a gov’t building (but not a gov’t job).

  34. Right, now that i’ve read the thread:

    Smoking is like anything else, you have to be aware and be polite – don’t blow smoke in other people’s faces, ask before you smoke in someone’s house / personal space (i do).

    It’s irritating to watch smoking get banned, the cost here in Australia is +$10/pack of 25, most of which is federal taxes. I smoke roll your own, for the less pungent smell and the cost.

  35. J France, Dimmer,

    People have this crazy idea that the bans on smoking are all due to some kind of lefty, bleeding heart conspiracy.

    When exactly do you think governments started listenting to touchy feely lefty conspiracies, and enacting law upon them?

    There is a very simple reason smoking is being widely banned: Successful compensation claims by victims of passive smoking. Ranging from aggravation of asthma or chronic respiratory illness, through to lung cancer, people are successfully demonstrating in court that they are suffering grave health problems from passive smoking.

    The bans are about risk mitigation.

    No one needs to show you guys any proof of anything.

  36. “people are successfully demonstrating in court that they are suffering grave health problems from passive smoking.”

    That’s a problem with the legal system, and nothing more.

  37. Robulus: “No one needs to show you guys any proof of anything.”

    Really? I thought there was a burden on proving everything to Me (J France), before anything is acted upon. Anywhere.

    But until there is defintive scietific evidence, uptight morons asking me to not smoke around them outside, on a windy balcony… well, they can STFU.

    I’m considerate about my smoking, keep it away from children and ask permission when in other people’s homes. When people over-react, like I’m pumping uranium into the air, that’s what I’m talking about.

    And in regards to mitigating compensation claims: it’s more bout pandering to simpletons. When you go to a pub or a bar, where 50%+ of the patrons smoke, and tell them their customers aren’t allowed to do what they go there to enjoy doing then you’ve traipsed into nanny state territory. If people can’t acknowledge that they’re in a place where people like to smoke and don’t exert their right to move on, then it’s their problem. Bleh – This poorly punctuated rant could go on forever.

    I’ve seen businesses die because of smoking restrictions. I appreciate controlled smoking legislation. But all pubs, clubs, venues. Few places where certain types of culture thrive are gone from my city because of fools who litigate rather than just scuttling back under a rock or going elsewhere.

    Tobacco products are legal, the litigation that surrounds them now that everyone knows the harms is just above my comprehension.

    Should bar staff have the right to sue their employers for their lung cancer if they’ve chosen to work for xx years there? I refer you to Dimmer @ #43.

  38. Wait, let me get this straight:
    There are places where you are allowed to smoke, but not breast-feed your baby, in a restaurant?

    I’d like to put a “That’s as silly as”-type analogy here, but there is simply nothing sillier than that.

  39. Really? I thought there was a burden on proving everything to Me (J France), before anything is acted upon. Anywhere.

    Heh heh.

    Look really I’m not that hung up about it, its just that the issues surrounding the bans seem to be widely misunderstood, and while the legal system may not provide scientific proof, it does determine social outcomes.

    I actually thought I’d miss smoking in pubs, because its part of the experience. I didn’t of course, the reality is they’re much better places for non-smokers now, but I always accepted smoke as part of the experience.

    The fact is, you simply can’t say “oh those bar staff chose to work in the pub, so if they get lung cancer its because of their choice”.

    Employers are required to provide safe working environments. Otherwise we’d still have the same arguments about children choosing to work in chimneys.

    I think the whole balcony etiquette thing is another deal entirely. If I was on a balcony and you were having a cigarette, I wouldn’t blink. If my kid was with me I’d probably move inside.

    But yeah, I guess public sentiment is moving against you these days.

  40. While not a smoker myself, I kinda sympathize with “third world” tobacco growers. A whole national economy has been built to depend on that crop. It wasn’t their decision in the first place. Hard times. (sorry, OT)

  41. Go back a few decades and if you didn’t smell like smoke there was something wrong with you.

    Go back a few more decades and if you hadn’t lost all your teeth by 30 there was something wrong with you.

  42. I have no problem with smoking in general. It just needs to be banned on Earth… bad for the atmosphere.

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