An ordinance adopted last week by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly imposes broader restrictions on smoking in restaurants and bars than a similar national-level measure currently being weighed in the Diet to curb passive smoking. The amendment to the Health Promotion Law that is now before the Upper House, delayed by a year due to strong resistance from the tobacco lobby within the Liberal Democratic Party and significantly watered down from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's original plan, will exclude a majority of restaurants and drinking establishments from the proposal that in principle would ban indoor smoking in public spaces. The Tokyo ordinance, on the other hand, covers more than 80 percent of the capital's eateries and bars.

Both measures will be in place by the time Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Japan, whose regulations against secondhand smoking have been given the worst rating by the World Health Organization, is taking the steps in order to match the joint goal set by the WHO and the International Olympic Committee to stage a "tobacco-free Olympics." But irrespective of the upcoming sports extravaganza, passive smoking is a public health hazard estimated to claim roughly 15,000 lives every year. Efforts need to be made to constantly review and update the regulations so they will effectively curb health damage caused by secondhand tobacco smoke.

Smoking is blamed for the death of more than 7 million people annually around the world, including non-smokers exposed to passive smoke. A 2005 WHO framework convention on tobacco regulations, in which some 180 countries — including Japan — have taken part, calls for banning indoor smoking in public spaces such as hospitals, schools, government institutions, workplaces, restaurants and bars, and public transportation. While 55 countries prohibit smoking in such places, Japan is not one of them.