Robert D. Eldridge, PhD, for JAPAN Forward

As readers who have lived here for any length of time will recognize, Japan has been slow to introduce restrictions on smoking. For example, smoking in schools, offices, other buildings, station platforms, etc., was banned only in recent years.

Similarly smoking in restaurants—the place most necessary to forbid it because of the displeasure it caused non-smokers when eating and the likeliness that children would be present—was not accomplished until April this year. That was a result of the Revised Health Promotion Law, in time for the (eventually postponed) Tokyo Olympics.

Such regulations should not be seen as restrictions on one’s lifestyles or pleasure (if you enjoy smoking) but instead as protections of those who do not want the effects of some activity or behavior to negatively impact them, especially in the area of health.

Global Health Impacts of Smoking

I was raised in a household where my father smoked. He eventually died, at the age of 61, from the effects of emphysema likely caused by cigarette smoke. I was a senior in high school at the time. I hated the smell of the cigarettes and cigars he smoked and recall uncomfortably the misery, especially as a small child, of having a cold or stuffy nose and not being able to breathe whatsoever. No doubt my mother, siblings, and I have been the victims of second-hand smoke, although my father did his best to accommodate us.

This commentary is not about how bad cigarette smoke remains health-wise, but rather that Japan (and the world) has another smoking problem—that of garbage, adding to the plastics problem in oceans and waterways, and pollution in general.

© JAPAN Forward / Photo by Sankei Shimbun

Bad Manners, Toxic Residue

Most readers are aware that plastics, such as pet bottles, in the oceans are a major problem, not to mention the fact that the plastics have broken down into microsized pieces that aquatic animals digest (and then go into the food chain, eventually affecting humans as well). In fact, cigarette waste from butts or ends is considered by experts to be the world’s greatest litter problem.

Around the world, cigarette butts make up approximately 38% of all litter, and in some developed countries, the percentage is actually higher, at 50%.

One reason for this higher number is that as smokers get pushed outside of buildings and off premises altogether in Western countries, including Japan, there is a tendency for butts to be discarded wherever, and they end up into the streams, rivers, lakes, and elsewhere. Some 75% of smokers, for example, report admitting disposing them on the ground or from cars. No doubt readers have seen such a scene in their lives before.

Smokers tend to be people with the worst manners—smoking without thinking of others around, smoking while walking, throwing their cigarette wrappers and cigarettes themselves on the ground or in drains, etc. (There are exceptions, of course—my father was one of those—but this generalization is unfortunately largely true, whether consciously or not.)

By - Ben K.