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Is Smoking in Japan Illegal?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 23, 2024
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For centuries, smoking in Japan was unregulated and subjected to few, if any, legal restrictions. Some studies suggest that more than 25% of the total population in Japan smoke, and cigarettes were long available in vending machines where even those under the legal age could purchase them. 21st century policies have changed the laws somewhat, and some believe the new laws are a precursor to a ban on smoking in all public places, country wide.

The tobacco industry has historically wielded considerable influence over laws regarding smoking in Japan. While the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe began to pass increasingly strict laws regarding smoking, Japan kept permissible policies and did not spend much time enforcing the laws they had in place. In 1999, the Health Ministry of Japan set a goal to cut smoking rates by 50% within 11 years, though they were not met with much success. After joining the World Health Organization’s efforts to stop tobacco use in 2004, smoking in Japan became much more difficult, but it is not illegal.

One of the first major changes was to implement identification scans in vending machines that sell cigarettes. These scans help to ensure that no-one under the legal age of 20 could purchase tobacco products. In 2008, the machines began to include a facial scan that can determine age range, to prevent children from using someone else’s identification card.

A frequent complaint of tourists to Japan has been that there are no non-smoking sections in restaurants. Many non-Japanese chains, such as Starbucks, chose to instate no-smoking policies in their Japanese locations. Some Japanese cities and regions are considering passing smoking bans in restaurants, but no nationwide law has been passed.

In Tokyo and Hiroshima, smoking is banned on many of the streets and outdoor locations. Tobacco companies have thoughtfully provided community ashtrays in the few areas where smoking is still allowed. Major Tokyo cab companies have also banned smoking while in taxis. Many public trains throughout Japan now offer non-smoking and smoking cars, and this is said to be fairly well enforced, depending on the area you are in.

Recently, author Dave Sedaris decided to quit smoking by moving to Hiroshima for several months, where smoking is banned in most public places. His resulting book, When You are Engulfed in Flames, notes the comparative gentleness of warnings about smoking in Japan compared to warnings in other countries. His analysis agrees with a large portion of people against smoking in Japan, that the health risks are not taken seriously enough.

If you are a smoker and planning to visit Japan, check local laws. While there is no nationwide ban on smoking in Japan, many large cities do have strict policies governing the locations where smoking may take place. Most laws in Japan are strictly enforced, and the unwary visitor may find themselves subject to large monetary fines if they are caught breaking local smoking laws.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for CulturalWorld.org. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By BioNerd — On Jan 10, 2011

It seems that this person who was trying to find an easy way to quit smoking by going to Japan was misled. The Western view of Japan as some super-disciplined samurai-dominated island nation is only half true. There are very high expectations and constraints on people in Japan, but Japanese people are, in fact, just as human and limited as anyone else. Even though some may not show it, for fear of being perceived as weak, Japanese people have their struggles too, and shouldn't be subjected to Western romantic views.

By BostonIrish — On Jan 09, 2011

Japan seems to have responded to international anti-smoking pressure by instating an ostensible ban on smoking via regional policies. But I'm sure even the people enforcing these policies have a smoke every now and then. Like most Eastern countries, Japan emphasizes appearances very strongly, and a legitimate anti-smoking campaign would need to take on a much different appearance in Japan than it would in the West.

By Tufenkian925 — On Jan 06, 2011

I think the issue here seems to be very cultural. Japan is a much different place than the US, and for Westerners to try to look down on them based on a smoking problem is ridiculous. After all, we introduced opium and smoking to the East a long time ago. The amount of stress in the average Japanese working life would be enough to drive any American, even your well-polished church goer, to stress-driven chain smoking. The fact of the matter is that people need a release, and not even the traditional Ofuro is enough for assuaging the extraordinarily high amount of cultural pressure present in the life of every Japanese person.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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