Aug. 30, 2007 -- Vacationing in Hawaii conjures up images of palm trees, surfing, hidden beaches and ocean-fresh air.
And a new campaign to draw Japanese visitors back to the island is pushing another less than healthful image — smoking.
Yes, that's right, smoking.
The Smoking With Aloha campaign is Hawaii Tourism Japan's attempt to clear the confusion over the Smoke-Free Hawaii law passed in November. It includes announcements in Japanese publications explaining that the new law has led to a "healthier and cleaner" Hawaii, but not an entirely smoke-free state.
Though this seems to be sending the wrong message — come to Hawaii and light up — Marsha Weinert, tourism liaison for the state of Hawaii, says the campaign is just addressing the law's misinterpretation overseas.
Japanese tourists have been confused about Hawaii's smoking legislation since an inaccurate news story was published in Japan, suggesting a ban on lighting up in the whole state, she said.
"The campaign has nothing to do with encouraging Japanese visitors to smoke in Hawaii, but it is an attempt to clarify incorrect information about the new law," Weinert told ABC News.
Aggressive or 'Regressive' Campaign?
Hawaii toughened its restrictions on smoking in 2006 — banning smoking in all public places such as restaurants, bowling alleys, malls as well as airports — and the new law confused Japanese visitors who thought the state had gone completely smoke-free.
Patrick Reynolds, the executive director of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free America, fully supports the smoke-free state. Reynolds told ABC News, "A smoke-free environment is an idea whose time has come. We're at the tipping point now. Twenty-one states have banned smoking from all bars and restaurants statewide; 19 of them in the past four years alone."
But when asked about the Smoking With Aloha campaign, Reynolds laughed. "It goes against the reality of Hawaii. They can't smoke on the plane over there and I think most smokers are used to the idea that secondhand smoke is a proven danger to the health of nonsmokers inhaling it," said Reynolds. "Promoting Hawaii as a smoky place is not the truth and it seems odd and regressive to Americans anyway."
Many Hawaiian counties already have laws limiting smoking, but lighting up in partially enclosed areas, bars and less than 20 feet from doorways and windows became illegal.
After the smoking ban went into effect, Yujiro Kuwabara of the Japan Travel Bureau said the toughest challenge was explaining the new rules, especially when it came to the small percentage of hotel rooms where smoking is allowed. And he was right. Travel suffered, especially group bookings.
Weinert said, "The Smoking With Aloha campaign was developed by Hawaii's marketing contractors … to try and communicate correct information to Japanese travelers about Hawaii's Clean Air and Workplace law enacted in 2006. When the law was enacted, a lot of misinformation was communicated in Japan by media and travel sellers."
According to Travel Hawaii LLC, Hawaii's tourism industry suffered a slump, with overall January arrivals down nearly 6 percent from January 2006 and the lucrative Japanese market down more than 12 percent
One person who claims to have visited the Hawaiian Islands for 20 years wrote in an online forum created specifically for this topic, "I for one, will not be back and instead will go to Mexican resorts."
Honolulu International Airport has posted smoking signage in Japanese at the request of Hawaii Tourism Japan. It's also going so far as to distribute plastic ashtray pouches with flame-resistant linings to Japanese travel wholesalers and retailers. The portable ashtrays are branded with a flower logo and the words "Keep Hawaii Clean." HTJ said it has had about 40,000 of the ashtrays made at a cost of about $1 each.
While smoking rates have declined in Japan over the last 10 years, roughly 45 percent of Japanese men and 12 percent of adult women continue to smoke, according to a 2005 survey by Japan Tobacco Inc., and younger women have started picking up the habit in greater numbers.
Tourist Rie Koyama, of Saitama, Japan, said she can follow the new law, but believes other smokers may avoid the trip to Hawaii. "Japan is a smoker's paradise," she said.