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Gov't stubs out hopes of secondhand smoke bill passage this Diet session

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki speaks during a House of Representatives committee meeting on May 24, 2017. (Mainichi)

An ongoing clash between the health ministry and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has extinguished hopes a bill to strengthen anti-secondhand smoke measures will be passed during the current Diet session as planned, government and opposition sources have revealed.

The Ministry of Heath, Labor and Welfare has proposed severe restrictions on smoking in restaurants and bars, but the LDP favors a more lenient policy, and the ongoing deadlock has made it highly unlikely a bill to revise the Health Promotion Act will reach the floor of the Diet even if the current session scheduled until June 18 is extended. There is also worry that the delay will affect the health ministry's basic plan to combatting cancer, now up for Cabinet approval, and other measures ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Recent Olympic host cities have implemented smoking regulations carrying criminal penalties in high-traffic public spaces. In line with this, the health ministry announced in October 2016 their intention to in principle outlaw smoking in all eating and drinking establishments.

However, the LDP opposed the idea, claiming that many bars and restaurants would lose business, and instead proposed that smoking be allowed in establishments with less than 150 square meters of floor space if they displayed signs indicating that smoking was allowed or that there were separate smoking sections. As a compromise, the health ministry proposed that exceptions to the smoking ban be limited to certain timespans, but no agreement was reached.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his party in May to submit the revisions to the Diet during the current session, there is no prospect of the LDP and health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki reaching an agreement. A senior member of the LDP commented that there is "almost no chance of passing the legislation, and even submitting a proposal (to the Diet) would be difficult."

If the revisions fail to pass during the current Diet session, the government and ruling coalition will aim for fresh negotiations during the extraordinary Diet session this fall. However, the health ministry has stated that a two-year period is necessary for the new measures to be fully adopted by the public, meaning that anti-secondhand smoke preparations for the Rugby World Cup in September 2019 may not be completed in time.

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