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Editorial: Let Tokyo's secondhand smoke ordinance set example for rest of Japan

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has passed an ordinance to prevent secondhand smoke ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics. This is extremely significant considering how far Tokyo exceeds other prefectures in both population and concentration of dining establishments.

The ordinance enacted on June 27 prohibits, as a general rule, smoking at eateries that have employees. If these restaurants or bars want to allow smoking, they are required to secure special spaces for puffers. As for establishments that do not hire employees, the owners who run them can decide whether to go smoke-free or not.

Of the approximately 160,000 dining establishments in Tokyo, 84 percent are subject to the restrictions; those who violate the no-smoking ordinance will be slapped with a non-criminal fine of 50,000 yen or less. Smoking spaces outside of elementary and junior high schools will not be permitted at all.

All schools and hospitals will be made completely non-smoking in April 2020, prior to dining establishments.

Even when specialized smoking rooms exist, smoke can waft out of them. Some criticize that the ordinance is insufficient, as it is not a complete ban on smoking, but it probably is realistic as a measure for preventing the effects of secondhand smoke.

The ordinance is the result of urging by groups including the World Health Organization (WHO) for Japan to hold a "tobacco-free" 2020 Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic event venues will not be limited to Tokyo, however. To expand and ensure the effects and spirit of Tokyo's new ordinance, other prefectural governments who will be hosting events should consider taking similar measures.

The games aside, the prevention of secondhand smoke is imperative to protecting the health of the Japanese people.

A national government-initiated revision to the Health Promotion Act to prevent secondhand smoke is currently under debate in the Diet. However, the government proposal was watered down due to pushback from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which sought to exempt small and mid-sized establishments from smoking bans. The bill has ended up being much weaker than the Tokyo ordinance, allowing smoking in individually owned, pre-existing establishments with dining floor space of 100 square meters or less. This means that just 45 percent or so of restaurants and bars are subject to smoking regulations.

The impact that the strict ordinance passed in Tokyo -- which has the most dining facilities than any of the 46 remaining prefectures -- will have once the new ordinance goes into effect will be sizable. Our hope is that Tokyo will push to make its ordinance the new nationwide standard.

The main challenge after the ordinance goes into force will be checking whether establishments are complying with it.

Ward or city public health centers will be tasked with inspections, which will require quite a bit of manpower. The relevant authorities must improve their readiness.

Meanwhile, outdoor smoking measures remain inadequate. Ordinances banning people from smoking on streets have been implemented in a range of areas, but their effectiveness has been called questionable. Smokers must follow the rules for them to have an impact.

At the city, town and village government level, efforts have been made to prevent secondhand smoke. Some municipalities introduce non-smoking dining facilities to the public, while others have prohibited their staff from using municipal government building elevators after smoking.

According to some estimates, around 15,000 people die every year from illnesses caused by secondhand smoke. This state of affairs calls for our urgent attention.

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