National

Facing LDP resistance, Japan approves cancer policy without tougher smoking ban

Kyodo

The Cabinet approved a new program to fight cancer on Tuesday, but a proposal for a tougher passive smoking ban failed due to insufficient support from the ruling party, which represents affected industries.

In June, a health ministry panel recommended that a “zero tolerance” approach to secondhand smoke be added to the nation’s planned cancer policy covering the next six years. But the move met with strong opposition from the Liberal Democratic Party.

The existing program calls for the eradication of passive smoking at government buildings and medical facilities by fiscal 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics, and lowering the ratio of passive exposure to smoke at home to 3 percent and at restaurants to 15 percent in the same year.

With some LDP members holding strong ties to the tobacco and restaurant industries, the ruling party has insisted that small eateries and bars should be exempt from the ban. The government initially planned for Cabinet approval for the new program in the summer, but the lack of LDP support delayed action.

Separately, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been in a standoff with the LDP over a bill to strengthen laws combating passive smoking.

As they remained at odds over what kinds of eating and drinking establishments should be exempt from an indoor smoking ban, the government failed to submit a bill to revise the Heath Promotion Law to the ordinary Diet session that ended in June.

Health minister Katsunobu Kato said the government will try to present the bill to the Diet “as soon as possible to effectively root out unwanted passive smoking.” In line with the bill’s content, the ministry plans to add numerical targets on smoking control in the cancer program.

The program was given Cabinet approval Tuesday despite the issue of passive smoking ban being left untouched, as the ministry feared further delay could affect the compilation of anti-cancer measures by local governments.

Estimating that about 15,000 people die annually in Japan from secondhand smoking, the ministry has called for more aggressive preventive steps. Based on the World Health Organization’s standard, Japan is among the lowest ranked countries in terms of tobacco control, with no smoke-free law covering all indoor public places.

The new program also calls for raising the ratio of people undergoing cancer screenings to 50 percent from the current 30-40 percent to decrease fatalities through early detection.

It also seeks to increase the ratio of those receiving detailed examination following initial cancer screenings to 90 percent.

The program promotes individualized medicine, which enables cancer patients to choose suitable treatments according to their gene types. It also features guidelines on medical care catered to elderly cancer patients who often suffer from dementia and other diseases.