The health ministry’s moves to consider exceptions to restrictions on smoking for small restaurants and bars reflects political slight of hand. This isn’t about restaurant and bar businesses; it’s about tobacco’s business.

Entertainment businesses don’t lose customers, but tobacco companies do because smoking declines when smoke-free workplaces become popular.

We know this because economic data from all around the world consistently demonstrate that laws requiring smoke-free workplaces, including restaurants and bars without exceptions, do not harm, and may sometimes improve, entertainment business revenues. This just makes sense. After all, most customers appreciate clean air. They’ll go out more, stay longer, and spend more.

Tokyo businesses calling for these exceptions have misplaced fears — and officials who can learn the science here ought to know better.

Meanwhile the public and workers at these businesses face increased risk of heart attack and cancer from second-hand smoke. The science is clear on this too. Weak action here means people will pay with their lives, their tears and higher national health care expenditures.

So, who benefits? That answer is easy — the tobacco industry. And in Japan, this includes the all-powerful Finance Ministry with its controlling interest in Japan Tobacco. But “Big Tobacco” uses the same playbook everywhere — it hides in the shadows and lets more respected players serve as its advocate. JT and its industry friends are surely the real players on this stage — they’re just staying out of sight, again.

Let’s not be fooled. Japan shouldn’t be the world’s foulest entertainment center — it’s time to get with the program that nearly every other nation in Asia and the rest of the world is picking up on. This will be good for health and for small businesses too.

Mark Levin

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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