Take it inside, says critic of Japan’s “firefly smokers.”
Japan is often referred to as a smoker’s paradise due to its lax restrictions on the sale and use of tobacco products, particularly in comparison to many western nations. Attitudes are slowly starting to change, though, as fewer members of younger generations are taking up the habit, which in turn is leading to discussions on placing new limits on when and where Japanese smokers can light up.
In late spring of this year, the Neighborhood Second-Hand Smoke Victims Society was formed. Based in Yokohama, the organization seeks to protect people from the dangers and discomfort of passive smoke in and around their homes, and recently has taken aim at the demographic referred to as “firefly” smokers in Japan. Firefly smokers get their name from their custom of going out onto their apartment or condominium balconies to smoke, where the tips of their cigarettes are said to resemble the luminescent insects.
The issue, though, is that unless firefly smokers live on the top floor of their buildings, their smoke naturally rises towards the tenants who live directly above them. If those upstairs neighbors happen to be on their balconies or have their windows open, they end up breathing the second-hand smoke. Even if they’re inside with the windows shut tight, balconies in Japan are customarily used as a place to dry laundry, meaning that their clothes end up smelling of smoke because of their neighbors puffing away below.
In the past, this was largely a situation for which the only recourse was to shrug one’s shoulders and say “It can’t be helped.” With smoking rates dropping and greater awareness of the health risks associated with second-hand smoke, however, people who’re unhappy about a firefly smoker living below them have become more vocal.
The issue is complicated by the equally true facts that the firefly smokers are smoking on their own property and that their smoke is encroaching on someone else’s property. In light of this, the Neighborhood Second-Hand Smoke Victims Society acknowledges that making firefly smoking completely illegal would be a difficult change to enact. However, it is seeking national or local requirements that, in the case of a complaint about a firefly smoker, landlords and building managers be obligated to take some action to rectify the situation.
Such legal changes have yet to be won, but with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare mulling tougher smoking regulations ahead of the 2020 Olympics, Japan’s firefly smokers may soon find themselves without the freedom to smoke on their balconies whenever they want.