Academic journal article American Journal of Law & Medicine

Tobacco Control Lessons from the Higgs Boson: Observing A Hidden Field Behind Changing Tobacco Control Norms in Japan

Academic journal article American Journal of Law & Medicine

Tobacco Control Lessons from the Higgs Boson: Observing A Hidden Field Behind Changing Tobacco Control Norms in Japan

Article excerpt


Despite the overall theme of this Issue being the future of global tobacco control, this Article is about Japan, with the conscious intention of presenting Japan as a demonstration of a different type of tobacco control environment. To be clear, I am not trying to suggest Japan is an unambiguously positive exemplar for other nations. Rather, it is with the idea that Japan's circumstances might be showing us that things are not always as bad as they might first appear. To quote Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, great philosophers of the twentieth century, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."1

Thus, in Part II of this Article, I will introduce the ostensibly poor circumstances of tobacco control law and policy in Japan over the past fifteen to twenty years. My first significant presentation on the subject was completed in the fall of 1996,2 which precisely coincides with the peak of tobacco consumption in Japan that same year. The essential structures of tobacco control law and policy in Japan have remained virtually unchanged in the intervening years. For example, the Japanese government still owns a major interest in Japan's former tobacco monopoly, Japan Tobacco Inc., and it is still explicitly written into national law that the "sound development of our nation's tobacco industry" is a national legislative policy goal for two reasons: "to ensure stable fiscal revenues" and for the "sound development of the national economy." 3 As I have written previously, Japan's parliament "has formally recognized that tobacco is good business for the economy and good business for the government."4

Admittedly there have been some changes, mainly on the level of non- compulsory measures aiming to talk down tobacco use and encourage smoke-free environments,5 as well as a recent tax and price jump and some local initiatives, but the big picture has been relatively constant. The tobacco industry and its political allies have been generally successful in holding the line on formal legislative policy change. Thus, aside from the nation's ratification of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004, 6 when we look at the standard toolkit of mandatory smoke-free workplace laws, effective package warning labels, strict age control enforcement, substantial tax increases sufficient to make tobacco products expensive, or court orders mandating industry document disclosures and judgments awarding meaningful damages for death and disease caused by tobacco outlets, there is not much else to present in the legislative arena in terms of hard-wired changes in the law.

Nevertheless, from a tobacco control point of view, there have been great changes in Japan with regards to the bottom line results. This is the focus of Part III of this Article. Consumption has plunged, showing unrelenting and accelerating year-to-year drops for the past sixteen years.7 The most recent annual consumption figure, released in November 2012 by the Tobacco Industry of Japan, 8 indicates 197.5 billion cigarettes sold, a number last seen in Japan in 1968 when the prevalence of adult male smoking was 78.5% and adult female smoking was 15.4%.9 Prevalence has also made a steady downward progression. Using 1995 and 2011 data for comparison, male adult smoking fell from 58.8% to 33.7% and female adult smoking fell from 15.2% to 10.6%.10 Moreover, smoke-free environments in both public and private spaces have become amply normed.11 Just as in the United States, there are still many environments waiting for change, but it is fair to say that it is now possible for many of Japan's residents to go for days or weeks on end without being exposed to other people's smoke, in a way that was simply unimaginable at the turn of the millennium.12

This apparent conundrum of failed efforts in policy change coinciding with successful results in norms change leads to Part IV of this Article. …

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