Efforts to ban smoking in central government buildings in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district are having little effect as old habits prove tough to break.
The National Personnel Authority issued a guideline July 10 aiming for a total smoking ban in all central government buildings. But resistance from smokers, as well as the structure of the old buildings, is making it hard to protect workers from secondhand smoke.
Kyodo reporters recently checked the smoking situations in the buildings of the National Personnel Authority and nine ministries, including the Foreign Ministry, and found that none of them had implemented a total ban.
The guideline, created after a law aimed at curbing smoking in public places went into force in May, calls on ministries and government agencies to ban smoking as much as possible.
The guideline says a smoking room should be set up within a building as a minimum measure, and there should not be any smoking areas within offices.
The reporters found that many of the 10 buildings had a smoking space set up on each floor, but some of these had no walls or system to vent cigarette smoke, as the guideline specifies.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry was one of the ministries going against the guideline by setting up smoking areas within offices. Other ministries that did the same were the Justice Ministry, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Finance Ministry.
Nonsmokers were relatively better protected at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, where smoking spaces were set up with exhaust systems.
A health ministry official said it is difficult to level a total ban on smoking.
“There’s no space outside for a smoking room,” he said. “And with people busy with the budget and the Diet, a total ban would probably cause some to become irritable and unable to concentrate on their work.”
In the health ministry building, which also houses the Environment Ministry, the walls cannot be cut through, and so it is impossible to set up a ventilation system. Smokers can light up only in the smoking space on the ground floor.
“This is a 26-story building. Can we expect people to go down to the ground floor to smoke?” one health ministry official asked.
“There is a limit to what we can do,” the official said, noting that one smoking space is insufficient for the roughly 15,000 people who use the building every day.
Even the National Personnel Authority, which drew up the guideline, is in no hurry to ban smoking, saying it has yet to set up a schedule on when to ban smoking altogether in its building.