Having been in New York and Hungary the past few years, I got quite used to the prevalence of non-smoking restaurants and cafés. In fact, during my first week, I nearly knocked the cigarette from my coworker’s mouth when he began to light up at the counter of an izakaya in downtown Koriyama.
Yet, although many places in my city and Tokyo allow smoking indoors – or at least have “designated” sections for smoking – the sidewalk is a different matter entirely. Painted on many of the more high-traffic pedestrian ways throughout the capital, you can see “No Smoking While Walking”.
According to its prefectural website, the government of Kyoto has banned smoking while walking on many streets and has made it clear that its citizens should be able to avoid the negative effects of second-hand smoke.
When I first noticed the signs in Tokyo, I assumed this was because smokers were more likely to toss their cigarette butts on the ground rather than seeking out a proper receptacle or ash tray, despite the number available outside business buildings.
After all, Sierra Magazine recently addressed a question regarding the environmental impact of discarded cigarette butts. The article expressed concerns over the toxic chemicals in the discarded filter and their negative effects on aquatic life. Two studies from 2009 and 2011 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health cited cellulose acetate as one of these harmful chemicals, which is diluted into the water or soil and can kill marine life.
As for the original reason banning smoking while walking, second-hand smoke, I’m about as huge a fan as fashion model Nanao Arai, who cheekily suggested free slaps for smoke blowers on the sidewalks. Otherwise, it’ll be a long time (or maybe never) until Tokyo adopts Bloomberg New York’s strict measures on smoking in public. So free slaps all around it is!