The Landscape of Japanese Tobacco Policy: Law, Smoking and Social Change

Posted: 12 Oct 2002

See all articles by Eric A. Feldman

Eric A. Feldman

University of Pennsylvania Law School


This paper presents three perspectives on the current landscape of tobacco policy and smoking in Japan. One highlights the historical and comparative contexts of Japanese tobacco policy, and emphasizes the continuity and similarity of Japanese legal, political, and social practices with those of other nations. The second illuminates the political economy of tobacco in Japan - tobacco farmers, government bureaucrats, politicians, and big business. Unified, they control the growth, manufacture, and sale of tobacco and work to maintain a smoke-friendly environment. The third perspective focuses on anti-tobacco activists, who seek both individual compensation and social change.

Taken together, these three perspectives make clear that forms of formal legal ordering have occupied only a minor place in Japanese tobacco policy. Few tobacco control laws have been enacted, and those that exist are rarely enforced. Regulations are largely self-imposed and informal. Litigation has not resulted in any legally required compensation or policy change. Legislation has focused almost exclusively on the business operations of Japan's largely state-owned tobacco industry, not on public health concerns. In short, formal law has rarely been used to reduce tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in Japan. Nonetheless, certain tobacco-related changes have occurred in Japan despite law's absence. Smoking rates have fallen dramatically over the past 30 years; advertising is restricted; areas where smoking is prohibited or limited are rapidly increasing. Japan is far from vilifying tobacco or treating smokers as pariahs. But Japanese public health officials, scientists, and educators, among others, in an effort to limit the harm of tobacco while accepting that some people want to smoke, have gradually developed informal, extra-legal ways to reduce tobacco's impact. Without question those efforts are incomplete; Japan has the highest percentage of male smokers in the industrialized world, and lung cancer rates are rising. Yet Japan's tobacco control landscape, because it exemplifies a style of tobacco regulation at odds with the law-bound approach favored internationally, merits a closer look.

Suggested Citation

Feldman, Eric A., The Landscape of Japanese Tobacco Policy: Law, Smoking and Social Change. Available at SSRN:

Eric A. Feldman (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

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