A new law targeting smoking took effect Monday banning people from lighting up indoors on government agency, school and hospital premises, with more establishments like bars and restaurants to face similar rule changes next year.
Under the revised Health Promotion Law, fines of up to ¥300,000 ($2,780) could be imposed on smokers and up to ¥500,000 on facility managers for breaking the law.
The scope of the anti-smoking push will be expanded next April to include some eateries and bars as well as offices, railway buildings and hotel lobbies, among other places, ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games starting July 2020.
Under the new law, smoking indoors is also now completely prohibited at child welfare establishments.
The shift is aimed at protecting people under 20, people with illnesses and pregnant women from passive smoke due to it having an outsized impact on their health.
The law allows smokers to light up outdoors on the facilities’ grounds on the condition that an isolated smoking area is provided.
Some organizations have decided to install outdoor smoking areas on their premises, fearing smokers would congregate on the street and bring complaints from the local neighborhood.
But the health ministry and the National Personnel Authority have already recommended that government agencies and municipalities do not create outdoor smoking areas.
Of the government’s 11 ministries’ main buildings only the education and transport ministries have totally banned smoking, with the health ministry planning to keep its outdoor smoking area until the spring of 2022.
Among Japan’s 47 prefectural governments, Tokyo, Osaka and eight other prefectural governments chose to go completely smoke-free.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government closed all six smoking areas within its premises last Friday. “I will put up with the situation while working, thinking as if I were traveling by airplane,” said an official.
The majority of schools and hospitals have already voluntarily banned smoking.
A 2017 survey by the education ministry showed that about 90 percent of kindergartens, elementary as well as junior and senior high schools had banned smoking. A health ministry survey in the same year showed nearly 60 percent of hospitals accommodating 20 or more inpatients had also imposed a total smoking ban.
But a separate survey by Professor Shigeharu Ieda of Chukyo University in Nagoya showed that only around 30 percent of universities nationwide had made their campuses totally smoke-free.
Some universities kept smoking areas on their campus grounds out of concern that closing the areas would make students smoke outside the campus and cause trouble for neighbors.
While the law starting April 1 will impact eateries and bars, the places where people are most frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, the change has sparked controversy due to the government’s approach to exemptions.
Existing eateries and bars with initial capital of up to ¥50 million and customer seating areas of up to 100 square meters will be exempted from the indoor smoking ban, and will not be required to have separate smoking areas if they display “smoking allowed” signs at their entrances.
Critics claim the exceptions will allow smoking at more than half of the eateries and bars across the country.