At least 18 of the nation’s 47 prefectures have either already banned or decided to ban smoking on the premises of prefecture-run schools, according to statistics compiled recently by Kyodo News.

The Wakayama Prefectural Government set the precedent in April 2002 by banning smoking at all of the schools under its jurisdiction. Since then, other prefectures have followed suit or are considering similar moves.

Ehime Prefecture, for example, implemented a ban on May 31, coinciding with the annual World No Tobacco Day.

The U.N. World Health Organization sponsors the day each year in an effort to call attention to the dangers of smoking.

With the enforcement in May 2003 of a health law that makes it obligatory to take measures to prevent passive smoking, moves to ban smoking on school premises completely are on the increase.

Other prefectures that have imposed total smoking bans at prefecture-run schools are Aomori, Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Fukui and Saga.

Tokyo, Akita, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Nagano and Tokushima have decided to impose bans on specified dates, while Hokkaido, Shizuoka, Shimane and Kochi have identified target dates and told the schools to implement appropriate measures by then.

Shiga Prefecture said it plans to impose a ban in the future, while Fukuoka Prefecture said it is considering whether to do so.

Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures have banned smoking — but only inside school buildings.

By law, students who are minors are not allowed to smoke.

Prefecture-run schools include high schools and some schools for handicapped students.

Schools with total smoking bans say the specter of smoking among teachers and other school personnel in a position to educate children to pursue healthy lives sets a bad example for students.

But they also cite a lack of funds with which to establish separate areas for smokers and nonsmokers.

Some teachers who smoke have complained about the bans, saying they have to leave the school grounds to smoke.

But Wakayama Prefecture officials said the ban has produced positive results.

“Teachers of course cannot smoke during classes, and their job by nature entails endurance. Due to the ban on smoking on school premises, there are many teachers who have also quit smoking,” a Wakayama official said.