Passive smoking and children

Editorial

A by-law aimed at protecting children from passive smoking — including in private places like their homes — has been enacted in Tokyo. The first prefecture-level measure of its kind calls on people not to smoke inside rooms or vehicles in which children under 18 are present. We still encounter scenes of children exposed to tobacco smoke from adults, including their own parents. Although it carries no penalties, the by-law seeks to protect the health of children on the basis of the Law on Prevention of Child Abuse. It relies on people’s voluntary efforts but is nonetheless a meaningful step forward that other local governments should follow.

The by-law was proposed by members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly from various parties, not by the metropolitan government bureaucracy. Koki Okamoto, a member of Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) founded by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and a lawyer who has handled lawsuits seeking compensation for health damage from secondhand smoke, played a leading role in crafting the by-law. It was endorsed by all parties in the assembly except the Liberal Democratic Party. In that sense, it was a product of the assembly election in July, in which Tomin First, promising in its campaign platform to seek measures against passive smoking, upstaged the LDP as the largest force.

Noting that it is difficult for children to stop secondhand smoking at their own initiative, the by-law calls on Tokyoites to make efforts so that children will not be subjected to passive smoking anywhere. It calls on parents not to smoke in rooms where children are present. Parents are also urged not to let children enter facilities that have no measures to prevent passive smoking or designated smoking sections. The by-law calls on smokers not to indulge inside cars in which children are riding, on streets near parks, plazas, schools and facilities for children’s welfare, and similar facilities. It specifically calls on people not to smoke on streets within 7 meters of pediatric clinics or dental clinics for children.

The metropolitan government will cooperate with citizens, municipalities and organizations concerned to take necessary steps to keep children free from secondhand smoke. The by-law takes effect next April and how it is observed by Tokyo residents will be reviewed after one year. The LDP opposed it on the grounds that regulating people’s private practice such as smoking at home requires careful discussion and that the by-law was being hastily enacted.

Although the by-law carries no penalties, it represents an effort to make people conscious of the importance of preventing passive smoking as well as to set rules about smoking. Similar measures introduced in Kanagawa and Hyogo prefectures target only passive smoking in public facilities and restaurants. The Tokyo by-law is also noteworthy for covering heat-not-burn tobacco products. Like other tobacco products, smoke from heat-not-burn tobacco products contain many carcinogenic substances.

That secondhand smoke is harmful seems conclusive. On the basis of accumulated data, the National Cancer Center said last year that people exposed to passive smoking are 1.3 times more likely to get lung cancer than those who are not. While it is estimated that smoking caused lung cancer to 70 percent of male patients and 20 percent of females who die of that illness, the cancer center estimates that passive smoking is behind the death of about 15,000 people annually. Passive smoking is believed to increase significantly the chance of sudden infant death syndrome. It also can cause asthma among children.

At the national level, the government was unable to submit to the last Diet session a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry-proposed bill to prohibit in principle smoking in public indoor spaces such as restaurants, due to opposition from the LDP. According to the health ministry, nearly 50 countries around the world prohibit indoor smoking in all public spaces. Japan lags far behind in the effort to protect people from passive smoking.

Aside from the by-law to protect children against passive smoking, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to submit to the assembly next spring an ordinance that will in principle ban smoking in the compounds of medical facilities and elementary, junior high and high schools as well as indoor smoking in restaurants and hotels, which would still be allowed to create smoking areas on their premises. In the absence of national-level action, such a step by the metropolitan government will be important since it will help the capital hold the 2020 Olympic Games in a tobacco-free environment — a goal set by both the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization.