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No sign of anti-smoking campaign in Japan


TOKYO -- Fresh air is a rare commodity in this smoker's paradise, where a perpetual cloud of second-hand smoke enshrouds offices, hotels, restaurants and most public places.

The government does not campaign against the evils of smoking. Cigarette commercials have not been banned from TV.

No waiter asks whether seating will be "smoking or non-smoking." It's all smoking.

However, one hotel owner is attempting to dispel the cloud. In an effort to attract customers to his new venture, Naotoshi Yamada recently opened the first non-smoking hotel in Tokyo.

"We wanted to generate business by making an appeal to non-smokers," said Yasutaka Yamada, 34, who manages the 120-bed Tokyo Kiba Hotel for his father. "It's a sort of market segmentation strategy."

The sleeping quarters of the Tokyo Kiba Hotel cannot really be called rooms. The facility is a capsule hotel, so-called because its four residential floors have been stuffed with plastic pods.

Each pod is large enough to accommodate a futon (a thin floor mattress) and pillow. The toilet is down the hall. Clothes are kept in lockers near the common bath on a separate floor. Checking into the Kiba Hotel is like checking into a submarine stood on end.

Most customers are out-of-town salesmen looking for a cheap night's rest. (The pods go for about $31 a night, though there is a floor of regular rooms at a more standard rate of $93.) Or they are workers who live in the suburbs who stayed out drinking and missed the last train home.

What do the customers say in response to taking away their cigarettes?

"When we say this hotel is all non-smoking over the phone, very few people cancel the reservation," Mr. Yamada said. How about the late-night stumble-in trade? "Occasionally they complain."

The carpets in front of the reception desk and in the elevator have large versions of the universal "no-smoking" symbol: the red circle with diagonal line through a cigarette.

"When we insist, they sometimes leave their cigarettes at the front desk," said Mr. Yamada. "They are not confident they can live all night without them."

Smoking is a big and growing business in Japan.

An estimated 34.5 million people, or about 28 percent of the population, smoke, including 60.5 percent of adult men and 14.3 percent of adult women, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Cigarette consumption is rising about 2 percent a year, or faster than population growth. Women smokers account for much of the increase, according to the Tobacco Institute of Japan.

After years of exclusion, American firms are capturing an increasing share of the $28 billion market.

From negligible sales in 1987, when the government lowered tariffs and began granting licenses to retailers to sell foreign-made cigarettes, foreign-owned tobacco companies now have an 18 percent share of the Japanese market.

Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and R.J. Reynolds are major players, with the evening airwaves filled with images of beautiful women in white dresses prancing through flowered fields into the arms of handsome men.

Lark, Kent and Parliament are among the more popular brands in Japan, providing stiff competition for the ubiquitous Seven brands -- Mild Seven, Mild Seven Light, Seven Star -- pushed by Japan Tobacco Inc., the government-owned monopoly.

Despite a worldwide crusade against tobacco use and overwhelming evidence of its harmful health effects, the anti-smoking movement is virtually non-existent in Japan.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Japan, with lung and throat cancer ranking just behind stomach cancer in frequency.

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