The health ministry has drastically relaxed its planned regulations on indoor smoking at restaurants, after a plan to tolerate smoking only at small eateries and bars met with opposition from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, government sources said Thursday.
The ministry, which initially planned to ban smoking at restaurants excluding those with a floor space of up to 30 square meters, is now leaning toward allowing smoking at restaurants with a floor space of up to 150 square meters.
The measure, expected to be implemented in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, is likely to face criticism from doctors calling for tougher smoking regulations. An estimated 15,000 people die annually in Japan from secondhand smoke.
The LDP, some of whose members have strong ties with the tobacco and restaurant industries, has argued that smoking should be permitted at restaurants with a floor space of up to 150 square meters, saying a tougher smoking ban would deal a serious blow to their businesses.
Under a new ministry plan, even if restaurants have a floor space larger than 150 square meters, smoking will be tolerated if they set up a special smoking room.
Smoking will be banned at establishments which open after the implementation of the regulations and at those run by major restaurant chains.
It will be also banned on the premises of clinics and hospitals as well as elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools.
According to World Health Organization standards Japan is among the lowest ranked countries in terms of tobacco control, with no smoke-free law covering all indoor public places.