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Health ministry mulls more exceptions to restaurant smoking ban due to LDP backlash

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has begun considering expanding the scope of exceptions under a legal revision that would ban smoking in restaurants in principle, due to a backlash from Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers.

The move marks a shift for the ministry, which had earlier said it could not comply with further revisions to its smoking ban proposal, as Japan would rank second to bottom on a four-tier World Health Organization scale even under the current proposal. However, the ministry prioritized passing legislation against secondhand smoke during the current Diet session, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in mind.

Under the current health ministry proposal, small bars and "snack" style pubs would be exempt from the ban, while smoking would be banned in principle at all restaurants. However, there remains deep-rooted resistance to the ministry's proposal within the ranks of the LDP, with lawmakers saying that the ban could force restaurants out of business. LDP legislators had accordingly sought a revision to the proposal.

In considering alterations to its current proposal, the health ministry took note of the fact that there was not much time left during the current Diet session when bearing in mind the party procedures required to submit the bill.

Tokyo Gov. Koike Yuriko has expressed a desire to boost measures against secondhand smoke, and it is believed some officials within the government and ruling political parties want to avoid the topic becoming a point of issue during the Tokyo Metropolitan Government election scheduled for this summer.

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