Smokers Across the World Under Growing Pressure to Quit [2020/05/19]
―Novel Coronavirus and Smoking 3―
Tokyo’s Minato Ward has closed off 28 outdoor smoking areas since April 14 until further notice. This was part of its efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding the so-called “Three Cs”−Closed spaces with poor ventilation, Crowded places with many people nearby, and Close-contact settings such as close-range conversations.
As I pointed out in my previous blog on May 15, the revised Health Promotion Act, which took effect on April 1, bans indoor smoking across Japan in principle, and most local governments have now enforced ordinances banning smoking on the streets and throwing away cigarette butts. All these have made it extremely difficult for smokers to find places to smoke.
“This is really tough,” one young man grumbled on a television news show, which I believe squarely represents how smokers actually feel.
Then, how about Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT), a leading international tobacco company based in Tokyo with sales in more than 130 countries? The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to which Japan is a party, severely restricts not only tobacco advertisements and marketing, but also the kind of social activities JT has launched, such as support for research and humanitarian assistance, that enhance the image of tobacco products.
JT’s afforestation and forest conservation projects undertaken around Japan and its management of professional sport teams could be considered to run counter to FCTC.
Next, sales of heat-not-burn (HNB) products, touted as a next-generation tobacco product, have been on the rise in Japan and some other countries in recent years. Using tobacco leaves, HNB products generate aerosols that are inhaled by users through the mouth.
As HNB products emit less smoke and flavor than conventional cigarettes, they are said to be less likely to expose non-smokers to secondhand smoke. They can also be used in designated heated tobacco smoking rooms and are not subject to any outdoor smoking ban. However, they still produce aerosols containing nicotine and other chemicals, prompting an increasing number of countries to introduce tighter controls on HNB products.
Electronic cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that may or may not contain nicotine. Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs. Japan does not approve the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Advocates for e-cigarettes have promoted their use as a safer alternative to tobacco and a means of helping smokers quit.
But there has been a growing call for banning their sale internationally, as U.S. researchers have found that vaping or using e-cigarettes significantly increases the risk of chronic lung diseases.
There is a worldwide campaign to restrict all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. But in Japan, partly because the government, through the Ministry of Finance, holds a 33.5% stake in JT, the country’s tobacco control efforts have been criticized as insufficient with its laws and regulations out of sync with the WHO FCTC.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, more attention has been paid to the negative effects of smoking. At the same time, businesses have rushed to adopt remote working, mostly from home, on a wider scale than ever seen before, doubtless resulting in more smoking at home and exposing other family members to secondhand smoke. My sincere hope is that COVID-19 gets smokers worldwide reaching for their thinking caps and concluding that now would be a good time to kick the habit.