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Tough smoking ban on sidewalks marks 10 years in Chiyoda Ward

October 11, 2012


On a recent weekday afternoon in Akihabara, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, a pair of ward patrol officers collared a foreign man violating a unique and strict ordinance that has been in effect for 10 years.

The duo, former police officers and donning yellow polo shirts, showed the culprit, a 30-year-old Spanish tourist, literature on the ward’s ban on smoking on the sidewalks, written in English as well. They told him he had to pay the fine, 2,000 yen ($25.60).

“When I traveled to Mexico, we could smoke in the street, not inside shops though,” the man said, although he paid the fine without much protest.

Chiyoda Ward, home to the Diet building, the prime minister’s office and many other central government ministries and agencies as well as a cluster of popular electronic shops in Akihabara, became the first local government in the nation to impose such a smoking ban in 2002.

Like the Spanish tourist, an average 81 percent of the violators each year pay their fine, according to the ward. The rest do not, even though they promise to send the fine in later.

Fines collected totaled 110 million yen over fiscal 2002-2011.

As a result of the ban, few smoke on the ward’s main streets. But Mieko Ishiguro, 57, one of the officers who nabbed the tourist, said some smokers try to sneak a cigarette at a spot that is out of public sight.

Areas around vending machines on the back streets are their favorite hideout, said Manabu Murasaki, 61, the other officer.

Even though the ward’s streets are not completely free off cigarette butts, they are significantly cleaner.

The number of butts left at four locations in the Akihabara district stood at 995 a month before the ban took effect, according to the ward. There were only five butts in the same district in April. Officials tallied the number on four occasions a month.

While smokers find themselves increasingly at a loss as to where to go to have a puff, the ban led to the opening in the ward in July by a private company of three high-tech smoking rooms, called “ippuku” (take a puff).

Smokers enter the room through a gate by presenting an electronic commuter pass that money can be added to. Admission costs 50 yen.

In one room, located on the first floor of a building in the Kanda area, a fresh aroma is sprayed as a customer enters. The air inside is not filled with smoke as thick as expected. Specially coated walls of the room are supposed to disperse odors. Although many smokers apparently don’t linger there, a 48-year-old man was taking time to have a private smoke, checking his cellphone and sipping coffee.

He said he stops by three times a day. The restaurant he is working for imposed a total ban on smoking three years ago.

“I don’t drink, and I have nothing else to enjoy other than smoking,” he said.

Akihiro Hineno, operator of the ippuku, hit upon an idea of setting up such places after he saw a band of smokers congregating around large ashtrays put up on the streets and nonsmokers avoiding them.

Hineno, 43, a smoker himself, became convinced that smokers needed somewhere to go where they will not cause nonsmokers problems.

A total of 1,100 people use his three rooms a day, according to Hineno.

Eighty percent are men, and smokers in their 20s through 40s account for 70 percent of his customers.

While the smoking ban in the streets has contributed to cleaning the ward’s air and streets, it created a new problem.

Smokers are taking refuge in the parks, where they are allowed to smoke under the ordinance.

But with a flurry of complaints from mothers worried about their children’s health and others, the ward began dividing some of its parks into smoking and no-smoking areas.

The Akihabara park in front of JR Akihabara Station now has a smoking section, started from spring.

The park, whose space is equivalent to three tennis courts, devotes 40 square meters on the side of the station to smoking behind an acrylic partition.

The smoking section appears too crowded on weekday afternoons to accommodate the crowd. Street sweepers are constantly picking up butts with steel tongs.

Ward officials acknowledge a need to address the problems in the park.

“The situation has improved significantly, but there are still many smokers who puff outside the smoking section in the parks,” an official said.

Ward officials has been examining the situation at each park since this summer.

The ward is expected to decide by the end of December what to do with about 60 parks it manages, whether to set up smoking areas in some parks or make others entirely no smoking.

According to the ward, more than 70 local governments have adopted an ordinance banning smoking on the streets with a fine for violators.

(This article was written by Minako Yoshimoto and Atsushi Takahashi.)


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