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People on our tours are always shocked by the Japanese lack of sensitivity to the health risks and can’t believe that a culture that prides itself on cleanliness can foster something that is so dirty, in every sense of the word.
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In comparison, the last English hotel I stayed in, which was a budget hotel, smoking anywhere on the premises would have netted you a £150 (¥26,800) fine. Despite the low cost, it was clean, customer service standards were high, and there wasn’t an unpleasant smell anywhere.
Japan has already gone some distance here, with non-smoking shops, public areas and rules for transportation, but it has to sort out the hotels and the eateries if it wants to maximise the numbers of happy tourists in the future. Non-smoking areas don’t work: It’s one or the other.
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Related legislation under the Japan Tobacco Law obliges the government to own more than one-third of JT’s listed shares. The Finance Ministry had owned more than 50 percent of shares in JT until as recently as 2013, when the government sold some of its stocks to finance the reconstruction of Tohoku in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The government currently owns 33.35 percent of JT.
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Japan Tobacco Inc., the nation’s only tobacco manufacturer, was a government-run monopoly until 1985 when it was privatized. JT’s cigarette products account for more than 60 percent of the domestic market.
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As a result, the Finance Ministry has received dividends worth tens of billions of yen in addition to more than ¥2 trillion in tobacco tax every year.
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Every step in the production process and sale of tobacco in Japan is overseen by the Finance Ministry. Changes in cigarette prices must be approved by the ministry and the 1984 Tobacco Business Law requires JT to buy all of the nation’s tobacco crop in order to protect the livelihood of the farmers. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party receives plenty of support from those involved in each step of the process, from tobacco farmers to retail outlets.
This, however, is easier said than done.
Tobacco prices are still relatively cheap in Japan, at least compared to other industrialized countries. After the consumption tax hike in April last year, one box of 20 cigarettes is currently priced at around ¥450, with tax accounting for about 65 percent of the cost. Prices are steadily on the rise, but they are more affordable than packets of cigarettes in countries such as Norway, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, which typically cost the equivalent of more than ¥1,000.
The government has a unique relationship with the tobacco industry.
Bungaku Watanabe, who heads the Tobacco Problems Information Center, says tobacco prices are kept stable because the Finance Ministry wishes to control the tax revenue cigarettes generate. “(In other countries), a ministry or agency in charge of public health oversees tobacco and alcohol, but Japan is the only country in the world where tobacco is supervised by the Finance Ministry,” Watanabe says. “We even have a law that supports the development of our nation’s tobacco industry to secure a steady tax revenue.”