I walked into a train station kiosk in France during my recent business trip and was shocked by what I saw--a shelf full of cigarette packages that bore graphic and disturbing images of ailing people and their diseased body parts.

I am not a smoker, but I reached for a pack for closer examination. The package was devoid of any decorative design element, and the only image it showed was that of a woman vomiting blood. Accompanying this was the written warning, "Fumer tue" (Smoking kills).

I learned that such health warnings on tobacco packages became an absolute requirement in France in January this year. The stated purpose was to make smoking thoroughly unattractive. However, this has not resulted in the ostracization of all smokers from society. On the contrary, patrons of sidewalk cafes were happily lighting up as they enjoyed their glasses of wine.

The French way is to severely regulate indoor smoking because of the high health risk from passive smoking, but let smokers puff away outdoors to their hearts' content. Personally, I think this makes a lot of sense.

In contrast, Japan is muddling pathetically through its smoking regulation policy.

According to one study, passive smoking raises the risk of lung cancer by 1.3 times. But even this keeps the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's tobacco lobby legislators vehemently opposing any move to ban smoking inside eating and drinking establishments, claiming the latter would suffer financial damage.

This situation is said to be unique to Japan, where outdoor smoking regulations have preceded those for indoor smoking.

But if that is the case, this fact itself should be examined and debated.

"Japan is backward in the formulation of policy based on evidence," noted Makiko Nakamuro, an associate professor at Keio University and a public policy expert. Since there is clear evidence of health damage from passive smoking, she pointed out, using this evidence to ban indoor smoking "could set the ball rolling for the institution of a national policy."

I imagine thorough debates are needed on the basis of specific evidence in many areas.

With the help of scientific evidence, can't we put our likes and dislikes aside and reach some solution that will be acceptable to smokers and non-smokers alike?

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.