Bending to pressure from the restaurant industry and the Liberal Democratic Party, the health ministry has watered down its plan to ban indoor smoking in basically all facilities.
Its new proposal for combating secondhand smoke, released Wednesday, now exempts small bars, although it still bans indoor smoking in all public facilities.
The ministry wants to get the bill to revise the Health Promotion Law passed and in place ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Under its new draft, smoking would be banned in all restaurants, including eateries like izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) and ramen shops.
But smoking will be allowed in tiny bars no larger than 30 sq. meters as long as a ventilation system is installed and a sign is posted to warn customers about secondhand smoke.
People who ignore the ban would face a fine of up to ¥300,000. Businesses could see fines reach ¥500,000.
The ministry hopes to have the ban in place before the Diet closes in June. But the bill’s prospects for passage remain unclear, given the strong opposition from LDP politicians tied to the tobacco and restaurant industries.
Indoor smoking also would be banned in such areas as municipal buildings and stadiums, as well as indoors and outdoors at schools, hospitals and other facilities frequented by minors.
Dr. Hiroshi Yamato, an expert on smoking at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu, criticized the exemption for bars and said it casts doubt on whether the government is actually serious about protecting the public from developing lung cancer.
“Posing different smoking rules for facilities based on their business types and sizes will only create confusion,” Yamato told The Japan Times. “Japan should totally ban smoking at all facilities without exception. Today, a total of 49 countries impose blanket bans on smoking without any problem.”
He said lawmakers opposed to the indoor smoking ban are either those beholden to donations from the tobacco industry or heavy smokers themselves.
“If they want to continue smoking indoors, then they should make the Diet building an exception,” Yamato pointed out.
Japan fared poorly in the World Health Organization’s international ranking of tobacco control polices in 2015. Japanese law only obliges facility operators to “make efforts” to combat secondhand smoke, and issues no penalties for inaction.
According a report released last year by the National Cancer Center, secondhand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer or stroke by 1.3 times.
A health ministry report released earlier this year estimated that secondhand smoke causes around 15,000 deaths a year in Japan, or about four times the number caused by traffic accidents.