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Friday, Jan. 6, 2006

MUNICIPALITIES TRY TO CURB PUFFERS

Tokyo patrols snuff out public smoking


Kyodo News

Wearing bright yellow windbreakers that read "from manners to rule," Mariko Tokunaga and Minoru Kojima hit the streets of Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on a chilly December morning.

News photo
Mariko Tokunaga (right) and Minoru Kojima patrol Yasukunidori street in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward to enforce and raise awareness of the ward's ban on smoking in the street.

The two ward employees are part of a team that patrols public spaces and hands out 2,000 yen fines to pedestrians caught violating the city's ordinance banning smoking on the street.

"We find a lot fewer people violating the ordinance compared with when I started this job" in April 2003, Kojima said.

No other municipality in Japan has been as tough as Chiyoda Ward on smoking in public.

A total of 60 municipalities, whose residents make up 10 percent of Japan's population, have some form of regulation to ban or discourage people from smoking in public or tossing their cigarette butts on the ground, according to Japan Tobacco Inc.

Moves to restrict street smoking, including designating smoking areas, have increased in the past two years, during which 25 municipalities introduced some form of regulation.

Smoking has lessened due to the greater restrictions both indoors and outdoors as well because of growing concerns about the health dangers.

The number of smokers here has continued to drop since 1996, according to JT. It hit an all-time low of 30.2 million in 2005, or 29.2 percent of the population, compared with a peak of 49.4 percent in 1966.

The municipal measures, which have led to dramatic decreases in the numbers of smokers and cigarette litter in the street, are backed by JT.

"We want smokers to have good manners so they don't have to feel guilty about smoking," said Tsutomu Sonoda, deputy manager of JT's social environment creation division. "We want to see a society that is acceptable to both smokers and nonsmokers."

JT, whose domestic market share was 67.5 percent in September, helps municipalities set up designated smoking areas, conduct campaigns to clean up streets and organize programs to educate people on polite smoking behavior, Sonoda said.

In a Chiyoda Ward survey of four street locations, the number of discarded cigarette butts plummeted 99 percent since the no-smoking ordinance took effect in October 2002.

The number of butts also has dropped by more than 90 percent in both Minato and Suginami wards.

The number of smokers on the street in the two wards has fallen significantly as well, with Suginami Ward seeing a drop of 88 percent.

But Kaoru Takemura, an official of an association that lobbies for more nonsmoking areas in public places, warned that not all the 60 municipalities have solved the problem of secondhand smoke.

"For example, people with asthma start coughing when they approach smoking areas, which are often set up near train stations," Takemura said.

Of the 60 municipalities, only three punish violations of their bans on public smoking with fines.

The city of Shizuoka is poised to join those three municipalities, after its assembly voted unanimously Dec. 15 to ban public smoking in response to a petition filed by a 12-year-old boy with asthma.

"I want the city to be free from secondhand smoke," Yuta Oishi said.

Mayor Zenkichi Kojima said the no-smoking ordinance would be drawn up by the assembly in June and will take effect by fall.

Chiyoda Ward officials said they welcomed Shizuoka's decision and hoped their municipality becomes a model for other cities aiming to have smoke-free public spaces.

But Kentaro Ogawa, assistant manager of Chiyoda's environment and civil engineering department, is cautious.

"We haven't got to the point where the values of the whole society have improved," Ogawa said. "We will have to work on that for a while."

Every day, Chiyoda sends out between four and nine antismoking patrols of eight to 18 people each.

Many smokers have complained about the ward's crackdown.

"More street signs should be erected" to inform people of the ordinance, said a man who was fined in Chiyoda's Akihabara district. He also said the 2,000 yen fine was too high.

The crackdown also has caused a problem for neighboring Bunkyo Ward as now smokers walk on the Bunkyo side of the boundary line so they can light up. They then leave their butts behind.

"We have had a lot of requests from Bunkyo Ward residents saying the ward should also ban street smoking," said Shunsuke Shima, an official in Bunkyo Ward's environmental protection department.

Bunkyo's method of attack on public smoking is to designate public areas where people can light up.

"Smoking is, after all, a matter of individual preference, and we think imposing a fine is going too far," said Mitsuru Yamashita, manager of the environmental protection department in Minato Ward, which has similar regulations as Bunkyo Ward. "Our focus is on the coexistence of nonsmokers and smokers."



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