Thursday, August 18, 2011


I'm delighted to feature this guest post by businessman TIM ROBINSON who describes his recent experience as a smoker in Japan where tolerance and fairness for both sides of the smoking debate are catered for through common sense and technology.


I’m not a militant smoker in fact I consider myself to have “liberal” and considerate views in all things. That may sound a little big headed but I’m well-travelled and I honestly believe it increases a person’s tolerance for others and what I'd consider to be their somewhat irrational behaviour.

Since the prohibition style of tobacco control was introduced in the UK I’ve felt more than a little persecuted but I try to see the other side of the problem and I’d happily meet anti-smokers half way. OK, they consider smokers reckless and immoral people (those that are passing laws and driving policy at least).

In my experience few people on the street do not want to reach a compromise where we are all happy. Yes there are some that will never be happy but if we didn’t smoke they’d complain we fart, look funny or aren’t exactly like them. You’ll never win them over on anything, they live to be annoyed.

Now Japan is about as alien a culture as I’ve experienced where a lot of emphasis is placed on at least looking like you are following the rules. I think that if the Japanese officials banned smoking ultimately this would be a smoke free country, but no country really wants to ban smoking it creates too much revenue. That's why many countries strive to strike a balance between pampering to the prohibitionists and keeping the revenue rolling in.

This is where the UK policy makers have screwed up. They'll never please the moaning minnies but they will isolate your revenue stream and eventually lose it from smokers either bullied into quitting or buying cheaper illegal products.

Now in Tokyo all the office buildings I visit have well ventilated smoking rooms which are clean and tidy and the smell of smoke barely escapes. I’m sure the anti-smoking brigade would disagree and claim they are being killed by tertiary smoking but I’ll never win that argument. They work on blind faith and not rational discussion.

Tokyo's streets have smoking areas which are well used. People smoke in the smoking areas, there is no litter, they use the ashtrays provided, and everyone is happy. Hardly anyone flouts the rules and smoke outside of the smoking areas and those that do generally use portable ashtrays and take any mess away with them. Everyone is happy.

The UK policy makers need to come to terms with the fact that we smokers do so through choice. They say I have an addiction but I don’t want to change. I enjoy smoking, it’s legal and it pays a massive chunk of revenue into UK PLC.

Through the work of campaigners, I hope that we can strike middle ground. We need to stop listening to the mentals. They will NEVER be happy even if every one of us quit/died or found jeebus and a love puppies and hugging trees.

We could very easily make smoking as it is in Tokyo where people are prohibited from smoking in many places BUT are given alternatives. The costs of doing this would be trivial and would give businesses a choice over the policies they enact and allow market forces to determine policy. If people really want smoke free pubs there will be more of them as they will be the ones customers want. It’s just basic economics.

One of the most bizarre things that happened to me in Japan a few weeks ago was in the Roppongi - a district of bars in Tokyo. Some friends and I stood in the smokeless and sweet smelling bar. We decided we’d have a smoke with our beers and moved outside and lit up. A bouncer turned up and told us we couldn’t smoke there, where could we smoke we asked? Inside was the answer.

That bar like many places in the city has good ventilation and extraction systems and the smoke was drawn away quickly whereas outside on windless days it could linger. It was like I had fallen through the looking glass! It’s nice to be treated like an adult where I don’t have to whisper where can I smoke like I’m asking where can I molest small animals knowing that the response here will not be a holier than thou you should quit. It’ll be a courteous : “there is a room on the 2nd floor”.

I asked if I could change my hotel room to a smoking room from non-smoking if it wasn’t too much bother. The guy at reception said "certainly Sir", handed me an ashtray and said it is now a smoking room. A non smoker friend is staying in the same hotel next week and wanted to change his booking. The only room they have available is a dedicated smoking room. They tell me they have an industrial type extractors that they will run in the room and it removes all traces of smoke. I may not tell my friend the room is a smoking room and ask him after his stay how the room was. I’d bet he won’t even notice that anyone had smoked in there.

The UK could learn a lot from the Japanese attitude to smoking but sadly I don’t think “we” will. All the time holier than thou prohibitionists are driving policy based on an almost religious belief in at best dubious science where findings are pointed towards an outcome and when it fails to produce the required result is modified until it does.

* If you agree with Tim that choice is important both to the promotion of tolerance and economic common sense, then please sign the E Petitions for choice HERE and HERE