Unfiltered: Conflicts over Tobacco Policy and Public Health

By Eric A. Feldman; Ronald Bayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
2
The Limits of Tolerance: Cigarettes,
Politics, and Society in Japan

Eric A. Feldman

Tobacco-control policy in Japan remains poorly articulated and seldom discussed. Despite a tradition of tobacco cultivation that spans four centuries and smoking rates that exceed those in other industrialized nations, the Japanese government has done little to limit the health consequences of smoking. Japan has neither an educational campaign like the U.S. surgeon generals’ reports, nor a legislative framework like Canada’s Tobacco Act. Its most important public health organization, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), depends upon the Ministry of Finance (MOF) for its operating budget, and MHLW has been unwilling to strain interministerial relations by insisting on meaningful tobacco-control policies. Anti-tobacco activists have asserted “nonsmokers’ rights” {ken-en-ken, literally, the right to hate smoke) for decades, but their rights rhetoric has been defeated by an effective industry campaign that portrays smoking as a matter of “manners” rather than rights. Courts have rejected legal claims brought by individuals allegedly suffering from tobacco-related illnesses or exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). For now, under the loose banner of “anti-tobacco,” scores of groups engage in advocacy but remain marginalized, poorly funded, and easily managed.

Why has Japan done so little about the health consequences of tobacco consumption? Money is generally considered to be the most important reason; tobacco-control policy in Japan arguably reflects the triumph of state financial interests over individual and public health.1 The key player in this scenario is MOF, which has controlled the growth, manufacture, and sale of cigarettes for most of the past century. By focusing on the

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