Value of life forgotten in quest for affluence

I heard my train approaching. I ran up a two-story escalator and hopped on my train. I was relieved to make it onto my train, but my relief was short-lived. While catching my breath, I heard the announcement that the train would be stopped because of an accident. This was the same announcement I had heard just a week before. The number of train accidents is increasing in Japan, and it is thought that one-third of the accidents result from suicide attempts.

Japan's suicide rate is one of the highest in the world. More than 30,000 Japanese people take their lives every year, even though my country, Japan, is one of the richest and the most advanced countries in the world today.

Allow me to describe some factors of the sickly Japanese situation and to list some silver bullets which might cure the illness.

To find the causes of today's Japanese social problems, I looked back at history and realized that the way Japan dealt with the aftermath of World War II might have directly affected what Japanese society is today.

No other country except Japan could become a world leader just 20 to 30 years after losing a major war and achieve one of the world's highest GNPs. It would have been impossible without Japanese diligence. While I am amazed at Japan's development, I suspect that Japan also lost something important during the postwar boom era.

Japan is the only country that has suffered from the damage inflicted by atomic bombs. However, the nuclear attack is just a half-century-old story for most people now.

It seems that Japan moved too swiftly to put this pain behind us in order to grab immediate profits in business. While Japanese society has prospered, it has focused only on short-term gain. Therefore, it has neglected the dignity of human life.

Japanese seek material affluence and convenience, but in chasing these things, we have left behind richness of the mind and the heart. In compensation for this, people in Japan have no dreams and hope. Our society has become a cold and lonely place, which lacks life and spirit.

How should Japanese society overcome its unhealthy situation? When one does not do what one should do, he or she cannot come alive. It seems that Japan is in exactly the same situation.

To make our society vigorous, Japan should carry out its duties and responsibilities. For example, it is the duty of Japan to proclaim the importance of world peace. It is the responsibility of Japan to share with the entire world the technology it has developed which might help prevent global warming. To have a true happy and bountiful life, each of the people in Japan should rethink the value of life and the importance of caring for each other.

These things have been neglected because Japanese have been overzealous in their quest for money and material wealth. Only when Japanese people understand what true happiness is will Japanese society grasp the importance of human life.

Today, while our world is getting smaller and smaller, it constantly faces the risk of terrorism and nuclear war breaking out. With these problems to solve, now is the time for Japanese society to wake up to its duties and responsibilities.

Japan holds three great non-nuclear principles that prohibit the nation from producing or possessing nuclear weapons or even bringing them onto Japanese soil.

I dream that Japanese society will value each human's life and contribute to making our world a better place for generations to come



Hondurans face big fines for smoking at home

Lighting up a cigarette at home could bring a visit from Honduran police if a family member or even a visitor complains about secondhand smoke.

A new law that took effect Monday banning smoking in most public and private spaces doesn't actually outlaw cigarettes inside homes, but it does have a provision allowing people to file complaints about secondhand smoke in homes.

Violations would bring a verbal warning on the first offense. After that could come arrest and a $311 fine — the equivalent of the monthly minimum wage in this Central American country.

Even some anti-smoking advocates suspect that part of the law may not work.

"It seems its intention is to educate by way of complaints, a move that I do not find very feasible," said Armando Peruga, a program manager at the World Health Organization's Tobacco-Free Initiative.

He did praise Honduras for adopting a broad anti-smoking law, noting it is only the 29th nation to adopt such a law out of WHO's 193 member states.

But Peruga said the clause allowing family members to call police on their smoker relatives is confusing. The clause "does not make much sense since the law clearly does not prohibit smoking at homes."

Six-foot exclusion zone
The law bans smoking in most closed public or private spaces and orders smokers to stand at least six feet away from nonsmokers in any open space.

The law explicitly bans smoking in schools, gas stations, nightclubs, restaurants, bars, buses, taxis, stadiums and cultural centers but it doesn't clearly ban smoking at home.

Still, one clause says that "families or individuals may complain to law enforcement authorities when smokers expose them to secondhand smoke in private places and family homes."

"The law is clear and we will comply with it," said Rony Portillo, director of the Institute to Prevent Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. "Authorities will intervene (at a home) when someone makes a complaint."

Some say the law will be almost impossible to enforce in a country of 8 million people with a rampant crime problem and only 12,000 police officers.

"Police won't be able to enforce it because they can barely keep up with the crime wave that has been overwhelming us to be able to go after those who are smoking at home," said Jose Martinez, a 38-year-old computer engineer who has smoked for 20 years.

The law also outlaws all advertising for tobacco products and requires photos of lungs affected by cancer to be placed on cigarette packs. Tobacco and cigarette companies have 60 days to comply with both requirements.

In Honduras, 30 percent of the people smoke, and nine out of 10 Hondurans suffering from acute bronchitis live in homes where there is a smoker, according to Honduran health authorities.

For every dollar that the tobacco industry makes in Honduras, the state spends $10 to fight smoking-related diseases, according to the Health Department.

The law says businesses, such as bars or restaurants, that allow smoking could be fined between $1,000 and $6,000 and repeat offenders could be shut down.

"The law is stupid because it bans smoking in bars or nightclubs, and everyone knows that people who go there smoke, and if they don't like it, they shouldn't come and that's that," said Gustavo Valladares, a bar manager and smoker.

Nonsmokers see it differently.

"It was about time that the government did something," said elementary school teacher Esteban Quijano, a nonsmoker. "I like to visit bars, but I hate the smoke of others. Most of my friends smoke and I know that it indirectly hurts me and now it will be different. I support the law."