- As seen on Magnesium Photography.
The major problems facing the human race are massive as ever and show no sign of abating anytime soon. Resource wars are becoming the norm. The environment needs a breath of fresh air. American obesity is getting serious (picture a muumuu-clad Homer Simpson when his fingers were too fat to dial the phone). Despite the overwhelming negativity slowing most forward-thinking legislative bodies, there seems to be a palpable worldwide trend toward cleaner living. Maybe it’s the economic recession talking or perhaps people are finally getting the idea that spending and consumption can be controlled to the gain of everyone, even those invisible third-worlders starting to demand their fair share of the world’s resources over in…wherever they are.
Smoking too appears to be declining. Even in Asia. Yet despite all efforts to the contrary, the culture of cigarettes persists. Cigarettes have an attitude about them. Smoking is (still) cool. Smokers have a swagger. We see this in movies, on television and in advertisements that target youth. Just watch Jon Hamm’s implacable Don Draper chain-smoke at his ad agency in AMC’s well researched Mad Men for examples of mid-1960s societal mores amid the peak of doctor-endorsed smoking and compare to now. What America was in the 60s, Japan was in the opulent 80s. A commonly heard phrase of the time being, “65% of men smoke and 35% of women smoke, which means 100% of Japan smokes.”
Slowly but surely times have changed. Unless the boss says otherwise, smoking in the office is basically a no-no. The same goes for almost any enclosed indoor space, at least in California, New York, Hawaii, (despite the U.S. leading the charge against the tobacco lobby, no national legislation has been enacted, leaving the decision up to state and local governments), most of Europe and elsewhere where the government has moved to reduce health risks caused by second-hand smoke. By making tobacco more difficult to procure, in effect this reduces demand for tobacco products and shifts social norms away from normalized usage, theoretically producing a healthier community. More than two thirds of the German population does not smoke. Less than a third smokes regularly. Smoke a cigarette once too often, and substance abuse takes over eventually and makes quitting even more difficult. Men smoke more (32% of the total sum of men smoke while only 22% of women puff). Consumption of cigarettes among youth is declining not due to smoking bans, but rather information campaigns and shifting in the characteristics of role models.
In Denmark, the small popular bars called bodegas packed nightly with patrons would die- especially the ones with names on little brass plates in front of stools at the bar: ‘You cannot sit there, this is Lars’ chair.’- if these regulars stopped showing up to get their daily dose of booze simply because they can’t top it off with a share of nicotine.
And that is where it all goes wrong. If the bar is under forty square metres, then you can smoke inside. The sane man in all of us says, “The smaller the room the more prone it would be to become really smoky and dangerous.” But talking to the man in the street about these places was surprising. “It’s fair that smoking is prohibited, so I can bring my wife and kids without stinking afterwards.” iterated a few while lighting stick after stick and discoursing on the matter. None of them was very concerned about the health of the bartender. ”Who cares about him? It’s his choice to be here…”
This apparent decline has experienced somewhat of a backlash against no-smoking and spawned adjacent industries to arise: such as the manufacture and installation of enclosed smoking areas ventilated with high-powered circulation systems seen in airports, hospitals and pictured above in the National Diet Building in Nagatachō, Tokyo. In a somewhat vain attempt to keep the city ash-free, sporting a portable ashtray has become the duty of the responsible smoker. The various vending machine associations have in no way thrown in the towel in the face of tougher smoking regulations geared toward finally curbing underage smoking. Hence, Taspo, an abbreviation for “tobacco passport”, which allows pre-registered smokers to swipe their personal smart photo id card to use the multitude of machines found all over town. In a humorous effort to improve the image of smokers, JT has commissioned a series of manga-esque public service announcements called “Smoking Manner For Adults”. Using basic colors and design techniques, we are expected to follow the exploits of a nameless stick figure as he gaffes about town with his over-sized cigarette. In another win for the anti-no-smoking movement JT has also opened smoking cafes to cater to their highest common denominator: the black-suit wearing salaryman.
Smoking can often seem counterintuitive to what societal norms are practiced in their home countries when travelers first light up upon alighting in Japan. Smoking inside bars and restaurants is generally viewed as acceptable whereas puffing in public can get you a fine in the high traffic areas of Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ginza. The contradictory aspect continues when one realizes just how many vending machines there are on the very streets where the use of the product just purchased is prohibited (apparently due to the unfortunate height of children along with the smoldering 700 degree fire held in hand by the perambulating smoker rather than any health concerns).
According to World Health Organization data the Western Pacific Region – covering East Asia and the Pacific – has the highest smoking rate, with nearly two-thirds of men smoking, the largest concentration of which is in China and Japan. This is not surprising given the facts: the China National Tobacco Corporation, the largest single manufacturer of tobacco products worldwide, which has a monopoly on the 350 million + Chinese smokers- roughly 30% of the world smoking population- boasts 130 factories, over 900 different brands and tens of thousands of cigarettes rolled per hour. The rest of the tobacco market is divided up by just a few American, British and Japanese multinational conglomerates. Of them Japan Tobacco (JT), behind only Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco (Reynolds American, Inc.), is the third largest. Rounding out the top six are Imperial Tobacco and the perplexingly intricate Altria Group (previously Philip Morris Companies Inc.), parent company of Philip Morris USA, John Middleton, Inc., Philip Morris Capital Corporation, and Ste Michelle Wine Estates, which also has a 29% economic and voting interest in SABMiller plc and since 2007, Altria no longer holds any interest in Kraft Foods.
The point being that since the late great epidemiologist Richard Doll in the 1950s linked smoking cigarettes to cancer and other health problems the tobacco industry has sought to diversify, at least in North America and Europe. Similar to the way organized crime has stretched out into legitimate business in order to lessen certain risks, the robber baron-esque captains of tobacco industry have less submitted to government pressure brought on by the improved health practices of middle class societies worldwide than to finally owning up the fact that, as it states on the Philip Morris International website, “Smoking is dangerous and addictive.” The idea being that, hey let’s be honest with ourselves, no matter what, people will continue to happily puff away, until they die. Especially in Asia.
Where, especially in Japan, cigarettes are cheap- ¥300~¥350 or about €2.50 / $3.50 per pack, which is due to large government collusion. Founded in 1898 and incorporated in 1949 as Japan Tobacco and Salt Public Corporation, JT was fully government controlled until 1985 and 2/3 operated by the Japanese Ministry of Finance until 2004. It is currently 50% owned by the Japanese government and controls about 65% of the domestic industry, though with the 2010 acquisition of the Gallaher Group, an Irish based multinational tobacco company, that percentage could increase dramatically.
As of 2008 the W.H.O. estimated that tobacco use kills more than five million people every year – more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. What’s it like where you live?
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