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Editorial: No half-measures on indoor smoking ban

A revision bill to add secondhand tobacco smoke measures to the Health Promotion Act is having a tough time getting to the floor of the Diet this session due to stiff resistance within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have called on the Japanese government to make the Tokyo 2020 Games smoke free, in line with the past several Olympiads. Indeed, Japan should implement secondhand smoke regulations befitting an Olympic and Paralympic host nation.

    The focus of debate on the revisions is whether to outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants. The restaurant industry and some LDP lawmakers strongly opposed an initial Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare proposal to ban indoor smoking in principle while also allowing dedicated smoking rooms. Forced to retreat, the health ministry settled on a plan to allow smoking in bars with 30 square meters or less of floor space.

    The anti-regulation charge is being led by the LDP's "tobacco caucus," made up of about 280 lawmakers in both houses of the Diet. The tobacco faction has declared its opposition even to the health ministry's compromise plan, proposing instead to allow establishments to choose on their own whether to go smoke free, provide smoking sections, or allow smoking at all seats, and then clearly indicate their choice outside the front door. Some members have even demanded any anti-smoking regulations be applied only to Tokyo as the Olympic and Paralympic host city.

    Earlier this month, a WHO official visited the health ministry and presented scientific data showing that no dedicated smoking room can prevent secondhand smoke from leaking into the surrounding space. The official then called strongly on the ministry to implement a complete indoor smoking ban, with no exceptions.

    In other words, even the health ministry's initial proposal -- with its smoking room provision -- did not pass muster with the WHO. In this light, the tobacco caucus' plan can be seen for what it is: simply beyond serious consideration.

    The WHO rates each country's secondhand smoke countermeasures, placing them in one of four groups. Currently, Japan is ranked in the bottom group. Even if the government implemented the health ministry's compromise plan, Japan would apparently rise no higher than the second lowest grouping.

    Recent Olympic and Paralympic host countries Canada, Britain, Russia and Brazil have all implemented laws or ordinances banning indoor smoking, including for bars and restaurants. More than 40 other countries have also passed laws against inside smoking.

    The LDP tobacco caucus seems unaware that, with its proposal to let eateries decide their own smoking policies, it is swimming against a worldwide tide.

    Every adult is free to light up if they want to, and we certainly understand the fears of small establishments that they will lose business if their customers are not allowed to puff away over dinner and drinks. However, we must first think of the health risks imposed on other people from secondhand smoke exposure. It is the politicians' responsibility to create effective anti-secondhand smoke regulations.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should end the wrangling over secondhand smoke countermeasures and put together a Health Promotion Act revision bill banning indoor smoking, with no exceptions.

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