Breaking the habit by puffing with Sir

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The Independent Online
FOR MANY smokers, the first taste of tobacco was behind the bicycle sheds at school, the rush of nicotine heightened by the risk of being caught by a teacher. Cigarettes were cupped in hands, and everyone had a story of putting a lighted stub in their pocket while a teacher passed by. Like sex and beer, the best things in life seemed forbidden to impatient youth.

Now a Japanese school is trying to take the mystique out of smoking by having recalcitrant pupils smoke in front of a teacher, in the unglamorous surroundings of the chemistry lab. Every morning a group of pupils at the Togura Kamiyamada school in Nagano, central Japan, surrender their cigarette packs to a teacher. In turn, the teacher doles out cigarettes to the young addicts in the chemistry lab during the morning break and at lunch-hour. The idea, which has sparked controversy in the town, is that the routine will gradually lose its appeal to the budding Bogarts.

Smoking is still popular in Japan: according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 53 per cent of Japanese men and 10 per cent of women smoke, and last year they got through billions of cigarettes. Cigarette advertising is still permitted on television. There is an anti-smoking lobby, but it appears to be losing ground - cigarette sales are increasing, and last month a railway employee lost a test case in which he was seeking to have part of his office declared a no-smoking zone.

The innovative approach of the Togura school, however, is causing some problems, because under Japanese law smoking is forbidden to anyone under the age of 20. The four pupils who are puffing under supervision are 14 and 15 years old. 'It was not a good idea for the school to bring smoking, which is prohibited to under- 20-year-olds, into the field of education,' said Hiroshi Takizawa, head of the Togura local education board.

'The students want to stop smoking,' countered Yasuo Shionoiri, headmaster of the school. 'They are making efforts with the teacher. If someone knows a better method, I would like to learn it.'

The Juvenile Bureau of Nagano police station said they did not quite know what to do, but the case was 'under investigation'.