Seaman James Parmes smokes in one of the designated smoking gazebos at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Outside the gates, Kanagawa Prefecture is considering banning all indoor public smoking.

Seaman James Parmes smokes in one of the designated smoking gazebos at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Outside the gates, Kanagawa Prefecture is considering banning all indoor public smoking. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — News of a proposed smoking ban in Kanagawa is getting cheers from some servicemembers who live in the prefecture and jeers from others.

The plan was announced last month and, if approved, will prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars, hotels, theaters and other public places. Prefecture officials say the ban is to combat health problems from secondhand smoke.

It won’t change policies on U.S. military bases within Kanagawa — Yokosuka Naval Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama — where smoking already is restricted to designated outdoor areas.

But the world outside the gates is fast becoming more smoker-unfriendly, said Yokosuka Seaman Trevor Guevara.

“Pretty soon, we’re going to have to leave Earth if we want to smoke,” Guevara said this week in a Yokosuka smoking gazebo outside the barracks.

The prefecture is taking input for a revised plan to put forth in June.

Guevara has this to say: Restricting smoking in schools and hospitals is fine, but banning smoking in Japanese bars is “ridiculous.”

“People drink, they want to smoke, they light up,” Guevara said. “That’s just the way it is. But in the end, it’s their country, not mine.”

Although it’s declining, the rate of smokers in Japan is among the highest in the industrialized world. A 2007 study by Japan Tobacco Inc. said 26 percent of all Japanese adults smoke — a new low.

Comparatively, about 21 percent of Americans adults are smokers, a percentage that has held steady since 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But while U.S. jurisdictions have enacted 550 smoke-free measures since 1990, Japan is moving slower. If approved, the Kanagawa ban would be the first of its kind in the country.

The majority of Kanagawa’s towns — 22 out of 33 — already have restrictions governing smoking on the streets. But those efforts are intended to curb littering, not to prevent health problems associated with smoking, prefectural health official Nobuo Horie said.

“We believe separating smoking and non-smoking sections is not enough to prevent health risks,” Horie said.

Smoking also affects society and the economy because related illness and death hamper workforce productivity, he added.

David Sadler, a petty officer first class, said he would support a ban.

“Even though I smoke, I like the idea of going somewhere and not smelling like I crawled through an ashtray when I get home,” Sadler said. “If smoking is allowed indoors, there should at least be proper ventilation.”

On Yokosuka’s “Blue Street” where a no-smoking zone was created last summer, cigarette litter has decreased by 30 percent, city recycling official Miyuki Sakamoto.

Also declining is the number of Americans smoking in the zone due to base publicity, she said.

While there are currently no fines or penalties for lighting up in Yokosuka’s non-smoking zone, Horie said the prefecture believes penalties “are necessary” if the ban is approved.

Seaman James Parmes said the ban wouldn’t affect him because he doesn’t leave the base much. Moreover, he said he doesn’t understand the hubbub over the issue.

“There’s more important problems in the world than smoking,” he said.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now