• Kyodo

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With Japan still reluctant to ban smoking in restaurants and bars outright, a cancer researcher has launched a website to make it easier to find those few establishments that have declared themselves smoke-free — and encourage other such businesses to take the same step.

The site, which is called Quemlin and is published in Japanese, enables users to search for smoke-free restaurants, cafes and bars by type of cuisine and location. It introduces each establishment and also features information about how their nonsmoking policies have positively impacted their business.

Yuri Ito, 40, chief researcher at the Osaka International Cancer Institute, likes to dine out and has been posting photos on her Facebook page of nonsmoking establishments she has visited since 2015. But what inspired her to launch the search site for smoke-free restaurants and bars was the fact that many such venues had maintained their popularity after going smoke-free.

Ito believes the website, launched last fall, can also provide valuable information to proprietors, helping them take the plunge. “I want to encourage their decision” to become smoke-free establishments, she said.

Based on World Health Organization standards, Japan is among the lowest-ranked countries in terms of tobacco control.

While over 50 countries including Britain, Canada and Russia have already banned indoor smoking at all eight types of public facilities — such as schools, medical institutions and restaurants — Japan has no smoke-free law covering all indoor public spaces.

The anti-smoking plan recently unveiled by the Japanese government shows some progress, with efforts to prevent passive smoking in public places, but has also sparked an outcry from lung cancer patients and other activists as it backpedaled from its initial goal of a total indoor smoking ban in public places, due to tobacco industry resistance.

According to a draft bill approved by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party last month, smoking will be basically banned within the premises of hospitals, schools and government offices. But for restaurants and bars, smoking will be permitted in facilities with customer seating areas of up to 100 square meters and capital of up to ¥50 million ($470,000), as long as they display a sign indicating where smoking, in designated sections or otherwise, is permitted.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had originally planned to exempt restaurants only with a floor space of up to 30 square meters from the smoking ban.

As a result of the backpedaling, the ministry estimates that customers at some 55 percent of all restaurants and bars will be able to carry on lighting up, raising questions about the smoking ban’s effectiveness.

Ito’s website currently lists around 160 eating and drinking establishments mainly in the Kansai region, centering on Osaka.

She plans to expand the website’s coverage throughout Japan, by soliciting members to search and post information about nonsmoking restaurants in each region.

Based on information she is gathering from shops, Ito is also conducting research on the relationship between the number of nonsmoking restaurants and the death toll linked to smoking in each region.

“Society is now shifting toward being smoke-free,” Ito said. “I hope Quemlin will help (proprietors) to take a step toward better considering their own health and customer satisfaction, and recognizing that there won’t be a negative effect on sales.”

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