Lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced forceful opposition Thursday to the health ministry’s attempt to ban smoking in public facilities, throwing a wrench into Japan’s battle against second-hand smoke.
“More than 90 percent” of the LDP lawmakers who attended a meeting of its health and welfare panel slammed the draft proposal unveiled by the ministry last October, with some calling it “too radical,” panel director Naomi Tokashiki said.
The draft called for banning smoking in schools, hospitals, municipal offices, restaurants and other public areas.
Some lawmakers have interpreted the proposal as an attempt to “eradicate” smokers and called tobacco a “legitimate luxury.”
Cracking down on smokers would risk infringing on rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they said, suggesting that Japan should instead focus on bolstering its efforts at “segregation” so nonsmokers can avoid the health-damaging smoke generated by smokers. The policy is known as bunen in Japanese.
Among other opinions expressed at the meeting was one saying that if the ban is intended as part of the public effort to hold a “smoke-free” Olympics in 2020, it should only apply to the capital, not the entire country, Tokashiki said.
The resistance from the LDP signals a thorny path ahead for the health initiative. Since the ministry is now scrambling to finalize an amendment to the Health Promotion Law for submission to the Diet as early as March, the likelihood of October’s proposal being fully adopted looks uncertain, Tokashiki said.
Thursday’s meeting took place a day after reports emerged that the ministry had hammered out two potential exceptions to the smoking ban.
One would be bars and nightclubs with no more than 30 sq. meters of floor space as long as “a sign” is displayed at the entrance and a ventilator is installed. The other was vaguely described as certain types of small restaurants that serve alcohol.
LDP lawmakers took issues with the reports and blasted the space criteria as unclear, Tokashiki said.
Japan has long been viewed as a haven for smokers.
In a 2015 report, the World Health Organization judged Japan’s efforts to eradicate secondhand smoke as one of the weakest, citing the lack of legislation to ensure smoke-free environments in public places like health care facilities, restaurants and public transport.
This is inconsistent with the Japan’s membership in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it signed in 2004, and its purported commitment to ridding public places of secondhand smoke, a widely acknowledged health risk.