Carrying the Weight: An interview with Komiyama Yoko

Japan is one of the largest tobacco markets in the world, and Japanese men account for one of the highest smoking rates in the world. That may all change soon, however, as an increasing number of laws seek to restrict smoking in public areas. Meanwhile, several lawsuits are working their way through courts in an attempt to hold Big Tobacco responsible for adverse health effects. So far, lawyers have not met with much success, but times are changing, that is for certain.

In this two part series, Koe Magazine first sits down with Diet member Komiyama Yoko, who is spearheading efforts to limit smoking.

Koe: Why did you begin campaigning against tobacco?

Komiyama: I became an Upper House Diet member in 1998, and when I went to the Diet Building I discovered ashtrays on all the desks in the conference rooms. The smokers didn’t even bother to ask around, “May I smoke?” They just puffed away. Those of us who hate the smoke had to simply scrunch our noses and put up with it. At the time, both of the actual chambers of the Diet were non-smoking, but while meetings in the Lower House were non smoking, only some of them were in the Upper House. The board of each of the individual departments basically decided whether the meetings would be non-smoking or not. So for example, even though the Committee on Health, Welfare and Labor may have been non-smoking, if the number of smokers in administrative positions increased, then smoking would be allowed. Even though we are talking about a public work place, that was how it was done, and so of course everywhere you went there were ashtrays and people smoking all they wanted. I thought this was wrong. In the beginning I would just hold up a sign that said, “Please don’t smoke in this area,” and walk around with it. I figured if I didn’t do something then nothing would change. Then in 2002, four years after I became a Diet member, I formed the Anti-tobacco Promotion League in the Upper House with like-minded members.

Koe: How many members of this league are there?

Komiyama: At its peak there were more than 90. But the most passionate about the anti-tobacco movement are mostly NGO members, not us. Those in favor of smoking included tobacco farmers, tobacco retailers, tobacco companies and the unions of those businesses. Those various groups would all band together as a matter of course and so right before election time, the Diet members of our league, which may have previously boasted good numbers, would dwindle because they wanted votes. And so after each election I would reach out again and increase our numbers. As of now, we are back to about 70. Even though we’ve created this league, it’s not infrequent that some of our activities take a pause or just cease altogether, and so for these past 8 years we have just been sticking with it our best.

Koe: Are health risks associated with second-hand smoke taken seriously in Japan?

Komiyama They weren’t in the past, but we passed the “Health Promotion Law” and we’ve been making advancements in banning smoking from certain public spaces, such as schools and various other facilities. Nationwide, there was this movement to pass a health promotion law. That started when all this talk was emerging internationally about the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC). Japan went from a negative approach to the treaty to a positive one, and when WHO adopted it, Japan scrambled to ratify it, too. Our members helped coordinate between the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, which was in support of it, and the more cautious Ministry of Finance. Working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was handling the actual treaty, they encouraged its passage while lodging some criticisms, and the treaty was ratified rather quickly. That’s basically how we did it, but it’s been about 5 years since we ratified the FCTC, and so finally in February of this year the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor stipulated some non-smoking guidelines or, in exceptional cases, at least separation of smoking and non-smoking areas. With that the National Diet is finally moving forward with smoking prohibitions. We started in the Upper House, where conditions had been really bad, and now the Upper House has advanced the cause beyond the Lower House to a degree.

Koe: What, specifically, is preventing nationwide anti-smoking laws?

Komiyama: To begin with, we have the Tobacco Industries Act (whose purpose is to develop the tobacco industry so as to create stable governmental revenue from tax), but the goal of our league members is to do away with that act and create new health laws. The Democratic Party of Japan now controls the government, and our manifesto specifically states that we will do away with the Tobacco Industries Act. But since taking power there has just been a slew of things we absolutely must do first and we haven’t been able to prioritize that. I think the best we can do for now is make tobacco more expensive. If cigarettes cost 1000 yen a box, 80% of smokers said they would quit. We already know that raising the cost of tobacco would be an effective deterrent for underage smokers as well, so our league members are throwing all their weight in that direction right now. In the end, I do want to do away with the Tobacco Industries Act. With the Liberal Democratic Party having controlled government until now, our realization of a law restricting tobacco had been basically thwarted. All you can really do is enlighten people and while doing so, work for change based on discussion. The ruling DPJ has the initiative now to make changes for the benefit of health. I think that just tacking on an extra yen per cigarette isn’t bold enough; I want to add 5 yen per cigarette to start with so that by the fall, there will be an average of 400 yen in tax added to each box. This is still much less than other countries.

Koe: Do you really think that increasing tax will be effective?

Komiyama: We can’t reform the Tobacco Industries Law in one quick go, so we have to try a variety of approaches. The Japanese government owns about half of Japan Tobacco’s stock, and now that we are the ruling party, the problem now is figuring out how to find new jobs for tobacco farmers and small retailers. Increasing the cost of unhealthy cigarettes is one step in our plan. Before the DPJ took control, we conducted an internal tax study and realized that we could start with about 600 yen, which would make us comparable with other countries, and increase the cost by 100 yen each year until we reached 1000 yen—that’s what we’re trying to do right now. At the same time, I’d like to try to enact some laws that take aim at the Tobacco Industries Act. This is the first real political change in 54 years. While now is the time to smash the bedrock, make some soil and plant some seeds, among the many problems that we face, tobacco just isn’t our primary one. We are listening to cries from all corners of society and doing our best to prioritize the most daunting tasks and take care of them as quickly as possible—that’s just where we are right now.

Koe: What are you doing to prevent underage smoking?

Komiyama: Actually, there was an underage smoking law passed as early as 1900, but that’s pretty much useless now. In our current situation, we think the best approach is, as I said before, to raise the prices of tobacco. After that I think anti-smoking education in schools is another approach.

Koe: If people do have the individual right to smoke, then where do you think they should be able to enjoy that right?

Komiyama: Well, if I had it my way, I would protect non-smokers completely from second-hand smoke. I’m not going to demand that someone quit smoking because it shortens their life if they are already well aware of it. It’s not like we can completely protect people from second-hand smoke, either. It’s a really tough situation. We’re not putting smokers in a cell, per se, but the one thing we can do is put them in an enclosure and ask them to smoke there. When we prohibited smoking on the streets, the tobacco companies said, fine, then we’ll build these smoking boxes for people.

Koe: Thank you for your time.



Koe: 喫煙に反対する活動のきっかけは何だったのですか?


Koe: 禁煙推進議員連盟の加入メンバーは何人くらいでしょうか?

小宮山:多い時で90人以上の議員が加入していました。禁煙運動を一生懸命進めているのはNGOの皆さんが多いですね。その反面、喫煙をさせたいと思っているのは、葉たばこ農家、たばこ小売業、 たばこ会社、たばこ会社の労働組合とか。そういった人たちが束になってくるのですから、選挙前になるとせっかく増やした議員連盟のメンバーが、票が欲しくて減ってしまいます。それで選挙ごとにまた呼びかけて増やしながら、現在は70人ほどになりました。議員連盟を作っても活動を止めてしまったり消えてしまうことが多いのですが、この議員連盟は8年間頑張って活動しています。

Koe: 日本では、受動喫煙の健康被害は大きい問題として捉えられていますか?

小宮山:以前は、捉えられていませんでした。「健康増進法」を国内で作って公的な場所での喫煙はダメと言ったことにより、学校など公的な場所での禁煙が進んできています。国際的には FCTC「たばこ規制枠組条約」の話が出ていた時でした。日本がその条約に後ろ向きだったのを前向きにさせ、WHOで採択をしっかりして、一刻も早く日本が批准するようにと働きかけました。議連のメンバーが、条約の合意を進めたい厚生労働省と慎重な財務省、中間に立つ外務省との間で、それぞれの省庁へダメと言ったり後押しをしたりと調整することで、テンポよく批准へと導くことができました。そんな形で活動しているのですが、FCTCに加盟し批准してから5年経った今年の2月に、厚生労働省が公的な場所では原則禁煙、どうしても仕方が無い場合はきちんとした分煙という通知を出しました。それによって国会の中も、さらに禁煙が進んでいます。状況がひどかった参議院で禁煙の取り組みを始めて、今は参議院の方が衆議院よりある程度進んでいます。

Koe: 日本で、喫煙を規制する全国一律の法律が制定されない具体的な要因は何でしょう?


Koe: 税金を増やすという対策で本当に成功するでしょうか?

小宮山: 一気に「たばこ事業法」改正まではいかないですから、色々な方法で改善していく必要があります。日本政府がJT株の半分を持っていたり、民主党は政権与党になったので葉タバコ農家や小売業者が職をどのように転換していくかといった問題についても、順を追って取り組んでいく必要があります。まずは、健康に悪いたばこの価格をあげることで一歩踏み出しました。政権を取る前に民主党内の税制調査会で、価格を諸外国並みの600円ぐらいからスタートして毎年100円ずつ上げていき、一箱1,000円にしようと考えていましたので、その取り組みをしています。平行して「たばこ事業法」を廃止していくつかの法律に変えていくということもやっていきたいと考えています。本格的な政権交代は54年ぶりのことです。今まさに、前政権の岩盤を壊して土をつくって種を撒いている最中なので、沢山ある問題の中でたばこが一番にとりかかる課題とはとてもいかないです。様々な活動の中で皆さんからいろいろな声をあげていただいて、わたしたちも働きかけをして優先順位をあげ、なるべく早く取り組みたいと、そういうことなんです。

Koe: 未成年に喫煙をさせないために、日本ではどのような対策がされていますか?


Koe: もし煙草を吸う人の権利があるとしたら、どういう場所で権利を享受するべきだと思いますか?どこでなら吸ってもいいですか?

小宮山: 本当に確実にたばこの受動喫煙を防止できるのであれば。ご自身が分かった上で命を縮めることを私はダメだとは言わないんですよ。受動喫煙を完全に防止するのは出来ないですよね。難しいところです。檻の中じゃないけれども、箱の中で吸って、なるべく煙が外に出ないようにするしかないですよね。路上喫煙を禁止した時に、たばこの会社が、そういうボックスを作りましたよね。

Koe: 以上です。ありがとうございました。

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