A proposed amendment to the law promoting public health — featuring measures against passive smoking — includes so many loopholes that it's doubtful whether the steps will serve their stated purpose. The legislation for the first time provides for fines for people who violate the tightened regulations on indoor smoking in public spaces. But, after a compromise with the tobacco lobby within the Liberal Democratic Party, people are still free to smoke inside a majority of eating/drinking establishments — a major setback from the health ministry's original plan to ban indoor smoking in all public spaces in principle.

The government plans to get the legislation enacted during the current Diet session. But apparently the government itself recognizes that the measures are insufficient — it gave up on incorporating in its basic plan for fighting cancer a target to eliminate the risk of people exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke. Lawmakers should seek to amend the legislation in Diet deliberations to give it more teeth so it can do more to protect people against the hazards of secondhand smoke.

While the ratio of smokers in Japan has declined to less than 20 percent, exposure to passive smoking is estimated to be behind the deaths of some 15,000 citizens annually. The World Health Organization gives its worst grade to Japan for its efforts to prevent health damage from secondhand smoke. Japan has no legally-binding regulation on passive smoking while 55 countries around the world now prohibit indoor smoking in all public spaces.