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Health ministry to put off anti-secondhand smoke measures in Japan

(Mainichi, file)

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has decided to put off formulating anti-passive smoking measures.

The ministry had planned to include measures to reduce secondhand smoke exposure in its new policy guidelines for combatting cancer, Japan's greatest killer. However, stiff resistance from some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) against the ministry's plans for an extensive ban on smoking in restaurants and bars held up the entire policy.

Instead, the anti-cancer plan is set to be endorsed through a Cabinet decision possibly in early October minus the secondhand-smoke provisions. The provisions will be added on if and when they are finally worked out later. The move is designed to make it easier for prefectures to move ahead with drawing up their own basic cancer-fighting plans. However, it is extremely unusual for an incomplete policy proposal to be approved by the Cabinet.

The basic plan, the third of its kind, is a guide for fighting cancer over the six years from fiscal 2017 to 2022. Among its core goals is to boost the cancer screening rate to 50 percent of the population, and develop therapies targeting cancer genomes.

The anti-passive smoking sections also initially at the heart of the plan would need to be reflected in revisions to the Health Promotion Act, originally slated for submission to the regular Diet session that wrapped up in June. However, the plan stalled when then health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki clashed with LDP figures over proposed restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants, and the revisions never made it to the floor of the Diet. The dispute also delayed finalization of the anti-cancer plan as a whole and pushed the Cabinet decision on the policy further down the calendar.

However, prefectural governments must also draw up their anti-cancer policies before the end of fiscal 2017 in March, and those plans are based on the national policy. The health ministry thus judged that further delaying the policy until the legal revisions could be drawn up risked putting local governments behind schedule as well, and decided to push through the policy sheared of its secondhand smoke measures.

The ministry aims to get the necessary Health Promotion Act revisions through the Diet during the upcoming extraordinary session, set to open later this month. However, health minister Katsunobu Kato has only been in his post since August, prompting one senior ministry official to say that "circumstances are not right to settle on a bill on revisions right away."

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