Give alternatives to smokers

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Give alternatives to smokers

A few days ago, my friend who lives in the United States visited me in Tokyo after a stay in Seoul. As we were walking, he suddenly entered a back alley and took out a cigarette. I thought he had quit smoking 10 years ago. He said that it was impossible to smoke in public in the United States. He was concerned about his health, too, but the main reason he gave up was the inconvenience. He confessed that he couldn’t help the urge to smoke when he visited Korea or Japan on a business trip. He said he couldn’t resist because there are many people smoking around him. He goes into small streets because his friends in Seoul advised him that it was prohibited to smoke on major roads.

Japan is a smoker’s paradise. When I first moved to Tokyo five months ago, I went to a restaurant with my children and was seated at a table in the non-smoking section, but the smoking section was nearby with no separate ventilation or partition. The smoke came right over to my table. Some young couples were smoking with a stroller parked right next to them. We left the restaurant within 10 minutes but we all smelled like cigarette smoke. Soon, I realized that we were lucky to find a restaurant with a designated non-smoking section at all. Aside from major department stores and some public spaces, most restaurants and coffee shops allow smoking. Business would suffer if smoking was prohibited. The reasoning is that the right to smoke should be protected as much as the right to avoid smoke.

But that does not mean you can smoke anywhere in public in Japan. It is a violation to smoke and walk around. Building walls and streets have signs, and some contain warnings in Korean. Local governments impose as much as 20,000 yen ($167) fine. There have been a number of incidents that resulted in children being injured or burned because of grown-ups walking with lit cigarettes. Instead, smoking booths can be found in the streets, subway stations, plazas and on college campuses. These booths have ventilation and offer conveniences like vending machines.

Lately, Korean smokers are complaining as all restaurants are to be smoke-free zones regardless of size from Jan. 1, 2015. A smoking ban at billiard halls and indoor golf simulation clubs is also in discussion. Industries are busy coming up with alternatives as cafes are no longer allowed to have smoking sections. Smokers have been driven out from bus stops, parks, plazas and major streets. With a cigarette price hike of 2,000 won ($1.81), stop-smoking clinics are crowded with customers.

Quitting seems to be an unavoidable trend. China, the biggest smoking country in the world, has announced legislation of a regulation banning smoking in public. As early as next year, indoor smoking in all public places in China will be banned. As a non-smoker, I welcome the expansion of no-smoking zones around the world. However, it is not desirable to point the finger at smokers and drive them into dark, dirty back alleys. They deserve clean and pleasant places to smoke.

*The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 20, Page 38

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