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AT Editorial: Hospital Smokers Out In The Cold

Author: Tim Boyle, Issue: May 1997, Topic: Medical

Hospital Smokers Out In The Cold

Compared to most countries in the West, Japan is still a smoker's "paradise", but recent steps have made things a bit tougher for those addicted to nicotine. Tsukuba University Hospital used to allow smoking in all of the waiting rooms and lobbies, making it difficult for non-smokers to find a smoke-free place to sit down for a visit. The smoke-filled halls of hospitals often came as a rude shock to foreigners, who tended to take for granted that a hospital, as an institution dedicated to the promotion of health, would surely not allow wide-spread smoking within its facilities.

That has suddenly changed, as the sight of patients standing outside the entrance of the hospital puffing away to get their nicotine fix now elicits a certain feeling of sympathy to their plight of having been driven out into the cold. Technically, there is still a small smoking room near the front lobby, but plans call for elimination of even that in the near future.

This rather dramatic change was instituted Feb. 1, with the precipitating factor being a flu epidemic. The screws were further tightened on smokers with the elimination of all tobacco sales within the hospital from April 1.

The anti-smoking forces in Japan still have a long way to go to equal the achievements of their American and other western counterparts (which some people, of course, feel have gone too far and are, in effect, persecuting smokers), but certainly a better balance has been reached between the rights of both those desiring a smoke-free environment and those desiring the pleasures of smoking.

What to do about restaurants is perhaps the next big battlefield. Many restaurants make a symbolic effort to provide a non-smoking section, but due to the typical layout of a small restaurant, that amounts to a table or two right next to tables with ash trays, and so the net effect is zero.

A non-smoker wouldn't be smoking anyway, and so if someone in the adjacent table is smoking, the non-smoking designation is meaningless. But from the restaurant's point of view, they are afraid of loosing the business of the smoking majority if they restrict smoking any further. And so coming to a sensible and fair balance of rights in such places will certainly not be an easy task. Anybody out there care to comment on this issue? Let us hear your opinions.

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