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Friday, March 10, 2006

Osaka seeks to stub out pesky public smoking

Staff writer

OSAKA -- For reasons of health and public relations, the Osaka Municipal Government is moving forward with plans to adopt an ordinance that would outlaw smoking on its most crowded streets.

News photo
A man takes a cigarette break on a street in Osaka's Shinsaibashi district.

Beginning next month, the city will carry out a survey in areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic.

About 20 million yen has been allocated in the city's fiscal 2006 budget to study ways to make the streets, especially in the crowded Umeda and Nanba districts, smoke-free. City officials, including Mayor Junichi Seki, hope to enact an ordinance by 2007.

"Smoke and ash from burning cigarettes are a health hazard, particularly to small children. We need an ordinance to establish smoke-free areas, one that allows the city to fine offenders," Seki told a news conference in late February.

Fines would be set around 2,000 yen.

The move is also part of an overall plan to upgrade Osaka's image.

Japanese visitors have long complained about smokers in Osaka and their lack of concern for those around them, while many foreign visitors, especially from cities where smoking in public is banned or frowned upon, have expressed disgust at the clouds of cigarette smoke they encounter on the city streets.

Passage of the ordinance is also expected to reduce costs for the financially troubled city. Osaka has spent an estimated 100 million yen over the past decade on public ashtrays and manpower to pick up discarded cigarette butts.

Reaction to the push for an ordinance has been mixed. Not surprisingly, nonsmokers welcome the move and say it will make life more pleasant for all, but worry that enforcement will be a problem.

"If the no-smoking ordinance is passed, I think people's public manners will improve, especially among nonsmokers who won't feel as stressed out walking the streets," said Izumi Masuda, an Umeda-district hotel employee.

"However, enforcing the ordinance could prove difficult, especially if there is no reduction in the number of cigarette machines."

Those who do smoke are not grumbling too loudly about the possibility of an ordinance, but worry that it could lead to other ordinances that would completely ban smoking everywhere.

"It's true that public manners in Osaka are really bad, especially in regards to smoking, and that a lot of people don't think twice about lighting up in a crowd," said Tadao Kuroki, an Umeda-based office worker. He said he stopped smoking in public several years ago after realizing it was both rude and posed a health risk.

"However, I don't want to see a situation where smoking is banned not only on the streets but also at all restaurants, stores or coffee shops. That's going too far."

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