Over 70 percent of Japan’s 47 governors think tougher measures are needed to reduce passive smoking, but less than half support the government’s proposal to basically ban indoor smoking at restaurants, a Kyodo News survey shows.
The results of the survey, released Saturday, show that 35 of the 45 governors who responded to it support revising the Health Promotion Law, which leaves measures to halt passive smoking up to the “efforts” of the people managing the buildings affected.
The health ministry wants to ban indoor smoking at all restaurants except small bars, but has yet to submit a bill to the Diet because of heavy resistance from Liberal Democratic Party politicians who want to broaden the scope of exceptions.
Japan is among several countries rated poorly on tobacco control policy by the World Health Organization, and the government is eager to improve its standing ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sarah Barber, director of the WHO Center for Health Development in Kobe, said in a telephone interview that the 2020 Olympics will be “a wonderful opportunity” to create “a comprehensive 100 percent smoke-free environment throughout Japan.”
But Saturday’s survey results show the governors have mixed views on the kinds of measures that should be taken, with 14 supporting the health ministry’s proposal but the remainder saying they could not favor either the ministry or the LDP. None, in fact, supported the LDP’s idea.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry wants to limit the smoking ban exemption to small bars with a floor area of 30 sq. meters or less. The LDP wants the size threshold expanded to 150 sq. meters if restaurants put up signs clarifying that smoking is allowed inside or that a separate smoking area is available.
Some experts say the LDP’s plan could allow nearly 90 percent of Tokyo’s restaurants to evade the envisioned smoking ban.
In the survey, the governors of Kochi and Saga said they support the health ministry’s plan because the Japan’s measures against passive smoking should be as effective as possible to protect both customers and restaurant workers.
Governors who refused to take either side, including the leaders of Iwate and Nagano prefectures, said measures to halt secondhand smoking should heed the opinions of farmers and restaurant operators, which likely differ in each business category.
The survey also showed that only two prefectures — Kanagawa and Hyogo — had separate ordinances against passive smoking. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to introduce one.
Ten governors said they have no plans to draft such ordinances, with nine saying the central government should impose a ban by law.
The survey was conducted between June 20 and July 4. Of the 45 governors who responded, four said they are smokers.
Noting that an estimated 15,000 people die annually in Japan as a result of passive smoking, the WHO’s Barber said that it was the “equivalent of about 40 people a day.”
“There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and even short-term exposure can cause serious health damage. The only way to reduce that exposure is to implement a 100 percent smoke-free environment,” she said.
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