National / Science & Health

Japan to restrict heated tobacco use but give up on indoor smoking ban ahead of 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Kyodo

The government said Tuesday it plans to restrict use of heat-not-burn tobacco products but will give up efforts to impose a total ban on indoor smoking, backpedaling from its initial goals to prevent passive smoking amid industry resistance.

Heat-not-burn tobacco products will be restricted because users inhale nicotine and other substances that can cause cancer, but use of such products will be allowed in specially designated rooms at restaurants where customers will also be able to eat and drink, according to the latest government plan.

Under the plan, drawn up by the health ministry, smoking will be completely banned in hospitals, schools, universities and government offices to protect children and others from secondhand smoke.

Minors will be prohibited from entering smoking spaces.

Smoking will be permitted in restaurants and bars where special rooms are set aside for exclusive use by smokers, with no food or drink being served within. However, the ministry is currently negotiating with the Liberal Democratic Party regarding restaurants and bars that may be exempted from the requirement to establish separate smoking areas.

As Japan is among countries ranked lowest for tobacco controls — with no smoke-free law covering indoor public spaces — the health ministry originally planned to introduce a tougher ban, but has backed down due to opposition from the LDP and industries that would be subject to the measure.

After obtaining LDP approval, the ministry plans to submit a bill that will “tighten” tobacco controls to the Diet in March, and implement the legislation in stages by the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to ministry officials.

Currently, facility operators are only required to “make efforts” to prevent passive smoking.

Restrictions on heat-not-burn tobacco use will be less stringent than those on cigarettes because the risk to health posed by secondhand smoking of such products remains unclear, the officials said.

Regarding backpedaling from initial plans, a senior health ministry official said, “It would be difficult to introduce thorough restrictions by disregarding smokers. We need to take a first step.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which aims to introduce its own indoor smoking ban as the host city of the 2020 Olympics, will postpone submitting a draft ordinance to its assembly session that will be convened in February, sources said Tuesday.

The local government believes it is necessary to review the envisioned ordinance given discrepancies with the health ministry plan, and aims to propose it at an assembly meeting set to start in June, the sources said.