01/18/2017 11:13 am ET Updated Jan 18, 2018

Japan's New Smoking Law: A Breath Of Fresh Air

Well, it seems like Japanese legislators are finally initiating a more stringent anti-smoking law set to kick-in just in time for the 2020 Olympics.(1) The law, which in principle bans smoking inside public spaces and aims to prevent secondhand smoke, is long in coming and long overdue.

The call to action seems to be truly motivated by two things; a) the global trend toward limiting the presence of smoke in public spaces and b) the 2020 Olympics. Nevermind that it is in the best interest of all people living in Japan to not be exposed to toxic fumes, it is the potential global response from visitors and viewers during the Olympics that really gave this law its needed push. Public shaming still carries a punch in Japan.

To Japan's credit, there have been efforts to encourage smokers to think of people other than themselves. Many parts of Tokyo, for example, have "smoking areas" where nicotine cravers can light up together (and get their groupism fix at the same time). Large train stations have smoking rooms. Many districts in Tokyo have tried to become no smoking zones. But despite having old men hired by the city walk around and scold smokers for smoking while walking on the street, it hasn't worked all that well. Increasingly - like daily - I see mostly men pretending to hide their cigarette as they walk. One word aptly describes what its like to walk behind a smoker: RANK!

And how about trying to have a meal in a restaurant without breathing second-hand smoke? (2) Forget about it. I can't tell you how many times my "no smoking seat" has been located 10cm from a smoking area in a restaurant. Like I said, it's not working.

For whatever reasons, I welcome the new law and hope it passes. More importantly, I hope it will have some teeth. But don't hold your breathe.