National / Science & Health

Bill on indoor smoking ban to leave restaurant issue on back burner

Kyodo

A revised government-sponsored bill aimed at banning indoor smoking won’t include a size threshold for restaurants, sources close to the matter have said, in an effort to avoid clashing with ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who are strongly opposed to banning indoor smoking at restaurants.

It instead plans to specify the threshold in an ordinance, a Cabinet order issued to better enforce a law, before the planned revision to the Health Promotion Law takes effect within two years of promulgation. The government intends to have the restaurant matter settled by then, lest it hold up the entire bill.

Although an ordinance needs to be approved by the Cabinet, it does not need to clear the Diet.

The move is seen as an effort by the government to advance the smoking ban bill while leaving the controversial restaurant issue for later, giving it time to discuss it with the LDP.

The government is trying to introduce the legislation to eradicate passive smoking before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics under pressure from the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization, which are seeking a smoke-free Olympic Games.

Restaurant size is a thorny issue in the government’s efforts to ban smoking at basically all frequently used public spaces before the Olympics, because there is strong pressure to exempt small establishments, such as izakaya (taverns).

The effort is being led by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which has insisted that smoking in restaurants be banned except for small bars and other establishments with up to 30 sq. meters of floor space. But the LDP is lobbying hard for looser regulation.

The government had planned to submit the revised bill before the last Diet session closed in June, but failed because of the pushback from the LDP, which is fighting the health ministry tooth and nail on the issue.

The attempt to regulate passive smoking before the 2020 Games has seen both the government and the LDP come under heavy pressure from the tobacco and restaurant industries, which have strong reservations about cracking down harder on smoking. Japan has been viewed as a haven for smokers for decades.

The LDP, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, supports legislation that will permit indoor smoking at restaurants with up to 150 sq. meters of floor space as long as they put up signs stating that smoking is allowed, or allowed only in a separate smoking area on the premises. That threshold would exempt most of the restaurants in Japan from the envisioned smoking ban.

But the recently compiled draft bill does not stipulate the size threshold for eateries because the government plans to stipulate the matter in a future ordinance.

Other countries that recently hosted the Olympics restricted indoor smoking at restaurants and other public spaces by using laws or ordinances drafted with penalties for those who break them.

WHO regards Japan’s measures against passive smoking as some of the worst in the world.

The draft legislation would ban smoking basically at all frequently used public spaces, prohibit facility managers from offering ash trays, and require them to make a good-faith effort to stop smoking within their facilities. Violators would receive advisories from their governors to comply with the law, and if they keep breaking it, would be fined.

Medical facilities and elementary and higher-level schools would be smoke-free throughout their entire premises, while universities, nursing care facilities for the elderly, gymnasiums and government offices would be subject to a ban.

Guest rooms at hotels and inns, and homes occupied by individuals, would not be subject to the smoking ban.

The draft legislation calls for reviewing the proposed ban within five years after the revision to the law takes effect.