Japan - Dealing yet another blow to smokers, an almost total smoking ban began this month in one of the biggest government office buildings in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo.

The No. 5 central government office building, a 26-story structure with three basement levels, houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the Environment Ministry and related government organizations. Government employees working in the building number about 4,500, about 30 percent of whom are smokers.

Before the ban, smoking was allowed in smoking booths equipped with air purifiers set up for each department.

Effective April 1, smoking is only permitted in a designated room at a corner of the building's lounge on the first floor.

One official working on an upper floor of the building said with a wry smile, "Since I have to go to the trouble of going down to the first floor to light up, the number of cigarettes I smoke has decreased remarkably."

Meanwhile, criticism of smoking has been growing.

In a recent development, a total smoking ban was put in place in all six-car trains on the Kyushu Shinkansen superexpress line that was inaugurated in March. This is the first time a blanket smoking ban has been put in effect for a Shinkansen line.

A public relations official of Kyushu Railway Co. said, "Since it takes only 39 to 46 minutes for the train to travel from Shin-Yatsushiro Station, Kumamoto Prefecture, to Kagoshima Chuo Station, Kagoshima Prefecture, we thought it appropriate to ask smokers to smoke only in the smoking area on the station platforms."

"When our Shinkansen fully opens to link Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, with Kagoshima Chuo, the travel time will be 80 minutes, so we'll study whether we should continue the current smoking ban after completion of the line," the official said.

East Japan Railway Co. in March added 10 of its major stations in Tokyo, including Hamamatsucho, Ochanomizu and Mejiro, to the list of stations under a smoking ban.

JR East did away with its smoking areas on some of the platforms of major terminals such as Tokyo, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations.

The railway company also has taken such antismoking measures as increasing the number of nonsmoking cars on the Tohoku, Joetsu and Akita Shinkansen lines.

Smoking on these Shinkansen lines is allowed only in one reserved-seat and one unreserved-seat car for every train.

Another JR firm, West Japan Railway Co., has banned smoking at every concourse of all its about 1,200 stations, leaving smokers only platform smoking corners.

A driving force of the rapidly spreading smoking bans is the Health Promotion Law that was put into force in May last year.

Aimed at reducing lifestyle-related diseases, the law addresses nonsmokers' concerns over passive smoking and the dangers of second hand smoke. Steps to prevent passive smoking are sought under the law at places used by large numbers of people, such as schools, hospitals, department stores, offices, government facilities and restaurants.

Following the legislation, the health ministry worked out a set of guidelines, titled "Countermeasures against Smoking at Workplaces," for private sector companies.

Measures in the guidelines include:

-- Setting up air-tight smoking rooms.

-- Equipping smoking rooms with ventilators.

The National Personnel Authority, in charge of administering medical checkups of government employees, informed all government ministries and agencies of steps they should adopt to curb smoking among government workers.

The NPA package has said in part, "In every governmental building...every possible effort should be made to realize the goal of placing smoking under a total ban."

The health ministry is taking the initiative in making government offices smoke-free, as the ministry is in charge of advancing public health under the Health Promotion Law.

But the shrinking number of spaces for smokers is not only due to the Health Promotion Law and smoking-curbing guidelines of government organizations.

Smokers are often far from being well behaved, when it comes, for instance, to how they dispose of cigarette butts. Smokers' bad manners have made them even more unpopular with nonsmokers.

The increasing number of local governments banning smoking on the streets--since the first ban was put into place by the Chiyoda Ward government of Tokyo in October 2002--is due mainly to the bad manners of smokers.

In Ireland, a law has been in effect since autumn that prohibits smoking in all workplaces, including pubs and restaurants.

The advisability of outlawing smoking at drinking establishments aside, smokers have been subject to increasingly severe criticism from nonsmokers.

As a consequence, it seems, the ratio of smokers stood at 30.3 percent of adults last year, marking a decline for the eighth straight year.


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