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The incumbent prime minister Hatoyama and his new government have been working to pass legislation that will place a 100-yen tax on each and every pack of cigarettes sold in Japan.  I was shocked this wasn't done 10 years ago.  Japan has a major problem with smoking addiction, and here are some possible reasons why:

They're Cheap
A pack of cigs cost about 300 yen ($3 US).  That's an awesome deal compared to a place like Singapore, where they are around $12 US a pack.  Most industrialized nations tax the crap out of cigarettes to promote a healthier, non-smoking population while boosting tax revenue.  As I'm sure many Japanese politicians smoke themselves, keeping it cheap must have been a long-standing priority.  Even the 100-yen proposal is quite mild comparatively.

They're Everywhere
Cigarette-selling vending machines are everywhere--in office buildings, restaurants, restrooms, and one was recently installed in my kitchen.  Up until recently anyone--even children--could easily buy cigarettes from the automated cancer vendors.  Apparently, high school kids loved this distribution system almost as much as the tobacco companies.  But all good things must come to an end, so some jerk developed a system empowering vending machines with the artificial intelligence to check for ID before allowing a sale.  Now everyone wanting to purchase via vending machine must first register for a "tobacco card" certifying that they are of legal smoking age.  It's functionally equivalent to one of those bright neon wristbands you get after showing your ID to the bouncer working the door.

So vending machines now require the "tobacco card," but they're still everywhere.  I remember some movement in the US to ban cigarette vending machines, and (at least in California) it was an resounding success.  Damn, that makes me proud to be American.

They Haven't Heard of Lung Cancer
Well, maybe they have because it kills plenty of people in Japan each year.  The point is that a pack of Japanese cigarettes doesn't come with the usual frightening warning or sickeningly graphic photos of lung cancer victims.  There's just a small warning basically stating that you shouldn't smoke too much.  It's bad for you.  Thanks for driving the point home, Japan.   

No One's Been Sued Yet
Japan is surprisingly smoker-friendly: smoking sections in restaurants, hotels, hospitals (no joke), hi-tech smoking "booths" where smokers look like pathetic caged animals, public ashtrays along the street, and “non-smoking” sections comprised merely of smoking section tables without ashtrays.

What Japan needs is a good, old-fashioned American-style series of highly-publicized lawsuits.  Japanese waiters, waitresses, bartenders, etc. have to bind together and file a phatty lawsuit demanding smoke-free working conditions.  Plaster it all over the news, rule in their favor, then we're on our way.

They Market the Hell Out of Them
Tobacco companies advertise their products freely in Japan via underhanded propaganda that promotes responsible and manner-minding smoking.  When you smoke please be responsible and use an ashtray.  Don't litter.  Don't hit little children in the face with your lit cigarette.  Our advanced technology keeps more smoke in your lungs and out of your family's face.  Tonight's volleyball game is  brought to you by V.T.—a smooth, refreshing smoke and the perfect companion for watching a sporting event.

No wonder many Japanese people start smoking in junior high school and continue until death.

No Guns
If it's one thing that makes America great, it's all the guns.  Every American's got a gun, so everyone's kept in check—even the tobacco companies.  When shit gets out of control, we shoot the trouble away.  Annoyed by all the people smokin'?  Then smoke 'em!  I'm not saying that guns are good, but they sure do a great job of getting much-needed legislation passed quickly.

Japan needs this.  The no-guns thing over here is really holding this country back.  Nothing gets problems solved like lots of guns.  I can pretty much guarantee that smokers will be convinced to quit when asked at gunpoint.  Sure...the smoker may have a gun too, but it's a lot easier to use a gun when not having to nurse a lit cigarette.  While you were fiddling with your crappy plastic convenience store lighter, I popped 2 caps in your ass.

The country still has a long way to go, but non-smokers are finally winning baby steps toward a smoke-free Japan.  Just the other day I was delighted to find that a favorite cafe near my house became 100% non-smoking.  I ravished in the small victory as I inhaled the dry recycled Tokyo shopping mall oxygen.

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