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Editor,—This year is the centenary of the enactment of the law prohibiting minors from smoking in Japan (Act on the Prohibition of Minors' Smoking, 1900). As the law consists of only four articles, we have translated the full text of the law in English as shown below. Article 1: Persons below the age of 20 years are prohibited from smoking. Article 2: Any person, who commits an offence under Article 1, will have their tobacco products and instruments for smoking confiscated by the authority. Article 3: Any parent or person in parental authority, who intends not to prevent his/her child from smoking, shall be punished with a fine not exceeding ¥10,000. Any person who supervises minors instead of their parents, shall be also punished by the former section of this Article. Article 4: Any person, who sells tobacco products or instruments for smoking to a person below the age of 20 years for his/her own use, shall be punished with a fine not exceeding ¥20,000.
The fines shown (in yen) are the amounts now in force.
We sent a questionnaire to 125 foreign embassies and 22 consulates located in Japan requesting information on the existence and contents of laws on the presence of direct legal prohibitions on minors' smoking, and on the observance of these laws. Responses were obtained from 64 embassies and consulates (recovery rate: 43.5%) (table 1).
Thirty eight of 64 countries who responded (59.4%) had neither law nor provision in a law directly prohibiting minors from smoking. In Norway1 and in some US states,2-6although no direct provision exists in their laws, smoking prevalence in minors has been decreasing since the introduction of smoke free laws or regulations.
Of the nations which we obtained information from, Japan is the first country that enacted the law prohibiting sales to minors. Nevertheless, smoking prevalence in minors has been increasing steadily. In 1990, 28.3% of junior high school boys and 12.1% of girls had smoked at least once.7 This had increased to 37.8% of boys and 22.8% of girls in 1996.8 Although the presence of the law is well recognised by Japanese people, minors who smoke have been only occasionally charged by authorities.9 According to prosecutor statistics, the number of arrests reached a peak of 433 in 1967, and has since declined to 17 in 1990. No case has been prosecuted since 1980.9 Furthermore, smoke free provisions have not been introduced in any national law, presumably because of the political environment, administrative inadequacy, and an inactive medical community in Japan.10
Our survey suggests that an unimplemented law prohibiting minors from smoking appears not to have sufficient effect on reducing their smoking prevalence in Japan. Other policies and laws such as the introduction of smoke free environments may be more effective.