Can new bill help Japan fight passive smoking?

opinion February 06, 2018 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry has unveiled the basic outline of a bill to revise the Health Promotion Law to strengthen measures against passive smoking. The government will submit the bill to parliament during the ongoing regular session and aims to have it go into force by 2020.

While imposing a smoking ban on eating and drinking establishments, in principle, the bill permits them to set up dedicated smoking spaces. Smoking is permitted for the time being at existing small restaurants and bars run by small enterprises or individuals, on condition that they put up signs saying that smoking is allowed or separate smoking areas are available. The total shop floor area of such establishments is expected to be 150 square metres or less.

The bill seeks to ban people aged under 20, including staff members, from entering smoking areas. It also makes electronic cigarettes subject to regulation. The bill seeks to totally ban smoking inside such facilities as schools, hospitals and public administration buildings, and also ban smoking in open-air spaces within their premises, except for dedicated smoking spaces.

The fact that moves to develop relevant legal measures have resumed indicates progress. It is of no little significance to make it obligatory for operators of restaurants and bars to take measures to prevent passive smoking. The question is how far the health damage caused by passive smoking can be dissipated.

In the original draft bill unveiled by the health ministry last year, smoking was to be allowed as an exception in bars and Japanese-style pubs of 30 square metres or less. The same bill totally banned smoking on the premises of elementary, junior high and high schools, and at hospitals.

Thorough steps needed

The contents of the latest draft are a marked setback. This must stem from the fact that efforts to pass the bill deadlocked due to fierce opposition within the Liberal Democratic Party regarding the regulation of restaurants and bars.

According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan government, smoking would be permitted at 90 per cent of restaurants and bars operating in Tokyo under the area requirements indicated in the latest draft. Even if there are signs inside the restaurants or bars saying that smoking is allowed, there could be cases in which people cannot help entering such places because of business connections. There would also remain the problem of passive smoking among people working at such restaurants and bars.

The World Health Organisation says there would be no effect unless a total ban is imposed on smoking inside such public places and is also negative about the establishment of smoking spaces. As many as about 50 countries have enacted laws that totally ban smoking inside public places, including restaurants and bars. Medical experts have strongly criticised the latest bill, saying the regulation is too lax.

The International Olympic Committee and the WHO jointly promote “tobacco-free Games”. With the Tokyo Olympics within sight, Japan should avoid a situation in which it would be criticised as being negative about taking relevant measures.

According to reports, including a white paper on tobacco released by the health ministry, inhaling secondhand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer and strokes 1.3-fold. Considering the serious health damage, it is desirable to expand as much as possible the scope of the smoking ban inside public places.

Eating and drinking establishments strongly fear that customers will stay away if there is a total smoking ban. The government should widely inform the public of the actual health damage caused by passive smoking and thus make efforts to win more public understanding of preventive measures. While urging the industry to respond on their own initiative, a total smoking ban should be expanded in stages.

In Japan, regulations related to smoking outdoors have gone ahead, thanks to ordinances and other measures by local governments. Measures are needed to prevent secondhand smoking in tandem with the ban on smoking inside public places.