Long road for anti-smoking Japanese

Cancer patients blame Japan Tobacco but the law, and politicians, are not on their side.

by

    Forty-three per cent of all Japanese men
    and 13 per cent of women smoke
    Two Japanese men suffering from cancer are suing government-owned Japan Tobacco, saying cigarettes are to blame.

    It is a battle which has been played out in court rooms around the world, often resulting in massive payouts by tobacco companies - but in Japan things are different.

    There are few anti-smoking laws, many politicians have interests in Japan Tobacco, and the company insists cigarettes do not cause cancer.

    Koreyoshi Takahashi contracted lung cancer after 20 years of heavy smoking, and has had one lung removed.

    Masanobu Mizuno has emphysema and is slowly dying.

    Both men say cigarette smoking is to blame and are suing Japan Tobacco for $100,000.

    When the men began their case there were three of them, but one died of cancer in December.

    "If the public really knew what smoking does to you they will start to move against it," says Takahashi. "They would be astonished if they knew of the danger."

    Cheap and easy

    Nearly 30 million people smoke in Japan, 43 per cent of all men and 13 per cent of women.

    Masanobu Mizuno has emphysema and
    is slowly dying, he says from cancer
    But unlike the West where smoking is widely banned in restaurants, bars and public areas, in Japan smoking is cheap and you can do it almost anywhere.

    Chiyoda ward in central Tokyo is one of the few place to have an anti smoking patrol.

    Here smoking on the streets can get you a $20 fine. But the rules do not apply to the entire ward and it is hardly enforced anywhere else in the city.

    Professor Manabu Sakuta of the Japan anti-smoking lobby, says the health ministry "should make regulations to prohibit smoking".

    "But they are instead focusing on Japanese who are getting fatter instead of concentrating on smoking."

    Japan's finance ministry refused to comment on smoking in Japan or the government involvement.

    Vested interest

    The ministry controls 50.2 per cent of Japan Tobacco, the world's third biggest tobacco company, turning over a profit of nearly $3 bn a year.

    The anti-smoking lobby says the Japanese parliament is filled with MPs who have interests in the tobacco industry and that is why nothing is done.

    Sakuta says implementing a national law against smoking is vital, "but with 300 MPs out of 500 with interests in the tobacco industry, it is impossible".

    Toshimasa Kurita, a Japan Tabacco spokesman:
    "We don't believe smoking causes cancer"
    Toshimasa Kurita, Head of the Social Environment Creation Division at Japan Tobacco says the company is simply meeting a demand.

    "We don't believe smoking causes cancer," he says.

    "Cancer is caused by various risk factors. Smoking is one risk factor. There is also dietary conditions and hereditary conditions as well. So if one chooses to smoke we as a manufacturer provide services to our customers".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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