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Draft bill against public smoking in Japan extends to restaurants, sets fines

This photo shows smoking spaces in front of JR Shimonoseki Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. (Mainichi)

New legal measures against passive smoking in Japan would ban smoking in restaurants in principle and impose fines for flagrant violations, it has been learned.

Under a bill to be submitted to the Diet in early March to revise Japan's Health Promotion Act, made public on Jan. 30, three tiers of smoking regulations would be established for facilities used by large numbers of people: a smoking ban on the premises, a smoking ban indoors, and a smoking ban indoors with the installation of separate smoking rooms permitted. Smoking rooms would have to meet certain standards, such as having smoke ventilation systems, and local bodies would have say over whether they are adequate.

There remains a possibility, however, that the measures could be revised, as the restaurant and accommodation industries are firmly opposed to blanket bans and there have been some calls from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to make considerations for small restaurants.

Facilities subject to the toughest regulation of a total smoking ban on the premises would include elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as medical facilities. Social welfare facilities, universities, government agencies, buses and taxis would be subject to the "indoor" smoking ban. At restaurants and hotels, as well as in public spaces in stations and buildings and on trains, smoking would be banned inside in principle, but the installation of smoking rooms would be permitted. Standards would be established for these smoking rooms, requiring them to be sealed off or to have ventilation systems to expel smoke outside.

Facility operators would be required to put up notices at places where smoking is banned and would not be allowed to place ashtrays inside. Prefectural governments would warn establishments that do not comply, and fine them if they did not improve. The current law requires facilities to make an effort without going as far as to impose penalties.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare considered making business establishments subject to the regulations, but the separate Industrial Safety and Health Act already requires companies to implement measures against passive smoking, and so it will address this area in the future.

Previously in Japan, lawmakers had initiated moves to legally crack down on passive smoking, but they failed to get off the ground. A driving force behind the government's latest move to introduce such legislation is the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and accompanying calls from the International Olympic Organization and World Health Organization for the games to be smoke-free. Since 2004, all of the Olympic host cities have introduced anti-smoking measures backed up by penalties. The health ministry accordingly presented a proposal for a similar system in Japan in October last year, and the proposed revision to the law was compiled.

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