National / Politics

Government gives nod to watered down antismoking bill

KYODO

The government on Friday endorsed a bill to roll out firmer antismoking measures, including an indoor ban for restaurants and the nation’s first fine for violators, before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan is rated poorly on tobacco control by the World Health Organization, and the government is eager to impose tougher measures on passive smoking by getting the bill through the Diet this year.

Japan has never adopted an antismoking measure with penalties.

The content of the bill remains controversial because the government has largely watered down the exemption requirements for eateries under pressure from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is beholden to the tobacco and restaurant industries.

According to the bill to revise the Health Promotion Law, smoking would be banned in hospital, school and government office buildings. On the premises, outdoor smoking would only be possible in designated areas.

At restaurants, hotels and workplaces, indoor smoking would be banned “in principle” except in special rooms set up for exclusive use by smokers where no food or drinks are served. At hotels, individuals would be allowed to smoke in their own rooms.

Eateries to be exempted from the indoor ban would be fairly large — those with customer seating areas of up to 100 sq. meters and capital of up to ¥50 million ($468,000). They would not have to establish separate smoking areas if they display a sign in front indicating they are a “smoking place.”

The ministry had originally planned to exempt small bars with floor space of up to 30 sq. meters, but ended up expanding the scope of the exceptions to win support from the ruling party.

The compromise triggered criticism from lawmakers pushing for tougher measures, and a heated debate might take place inside the Diet once the bill is submitted.

As a result of the backpedaling, an estimate shows that customers at some 55 percent of all restaurants and bars can carry on lighting up without going into a separate room, raising questions about the effectiveness of the smoking ban sought.

Under the bill, smokers who break the rules could be fined up to ¥300,000, with facility managers who fail to take proper measures, including removing ashtrays, at risk of penalties of up to ¥500,000.

The use of heat-not-burn tobacco products is also regulated in the bill.

About 15,000 people are estimated to die in Japan each year from passive smoking, and a government survey in 2016 showed that some 40 percent of nonsmokers said they had indirectly inhaled smoke at restaurants and pubs.