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A local government office building in Hiroshima Prefecture will reinstate smoking areas in September after officials were repeatedly spotted taking a puff on the street and it was judged their behavior would never be reformed.

The revival of smoking areas has drawn sharp criticism from the local medical association, which has slammed the move as “going against the times.”

The city building's smoking area shows a sign that says those who smoke outside the designated area will be fined. | CHUGOKU SHIMBUN
The city building’s smoking area shows a sign that says those who smoke outside the designated area will be fined. | CHUGOKU SHIMBUN

The city of Hiroshima’s Joint Government Building abolished all its smoking areas in June 2019 due to the partial enforcement of the revised Health Promotion Law, which strengthened measures against passive smoking.

But since then, the Chugoku region’s administrative evaluation bureau, set up under the internal affairs ministry, has received complaints from local residents about smoking by employees at the building on the street and elsewhere. The bureau eventually decided their smoking manners are highly unlikely to improve.

According to the evaluation bureau and the Chugoku Finance Bureau, the restored smoking areas will be located at the northern end of the premises of the joint government office, where 23 organizations, including government offices, are gathered.

Part of an outdoor bicycle parking lot facing a city road will be enclosed by a 2-meter-high partition. The project was to be designed by the end of August and is scheduled for completion in September. The cost of the project is yet to be determined and will be divided among the 23 organizations.

The partial enforcement in July 2019 of the revised Health Promotion Law banned smoking on the premises of administrative agencies in principle. As of June 2019, the Hiroshima joint government office had indoor smoking zones within each of its four buildings, but they were completely removed when the law came into effect. The revised law stated that outdoor smoking areas can be preserved as long as measures are taken to prevent passive smoking, but they were all taken down at that time anyway.

But since then, residents near the government building have reported on multiple occasions that those believed to be employees were smoking outside the premises. In late June, a liaison meeting of the 23 entities discussed how to deal with the situation and decided to reinstate the smoking areas, concluding that inappropriate smoking by officials cannot be eradicated.

Separately, a smoking booth, a park and the streets near the joint government building are the three places designated as smoking areas by the city. One of the complaints from residents was that some employees were smoking outside the booth.

A whole district around the building has been made a restricted smoking area under the city’s anti-littering ordinance, and a fine of ¥1,000 is imposed for smoking in public places other than a designated smoking space. For this reason, the city put up a sign on the booth in August to warn smokers that it will enforce the ordinance more stringently and fine them for smoking from October.

The booth is currently unavailable as part of the prefecture’s anti-virus measures.

In February this year, the evaluation bureau instructed the 23 institutions to improve smoking manners among their employees and raise awareness of the importance of quitting smoking.

“The instruction is not compulsory, and it is difficult to enforce smoking etiquette among officials,” Chief Administrative Counselor Shinji Takahashi said. “In order to stop them causing trouble to local residents, we have no choice but to reinstate the smoking areas.”

The Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association, however, has condemned the move.

“Smoking areas encourage passive smoking and risk spreading the coronavirus too. It is anachronistic of them, despite their being a public institution that should serve as a model for the private sector,” the group said.

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published Aug. 12.

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