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Health ministry unveils watered-down anti-passive smoking bill

(Mainichi, file)

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Jan. 30 unveiled a watered-down version of a draft bill aimed at restricting secondhand smoking.

    The government plans to submit the bill to revise the Health Promotion Act to restrict the smoking of cigarettes, including heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco products, to the Diet in early March.

    With regard to measures to prevent passive smoking at restaurants and bars, on which particular attention is focused, indoor smoking would be prohibited in principle under the proposed bill. However, existing small-scale establishments would be exempted from restrictions on condition that they display separate smoking or other signs.

    Under the ministry's draft countermeasures unveiled in March 2017, it had been proposed that bars with a floor space of up to 30 square meters would be exempted from such restrictions. However, the ministry's draft bill would ease the restrictions to exempt restaurants and bars with a floor space of up to 150 square meters that are either individually run or capitalized at no more than 50 million yen.

    The latest proposal could spark controversy because it would drastically relax restrictions on indoor smoking.

    Sparing existing small-scale establishments from smoking restrictions is aimed at allowing them to continue operating. The criteria for exemption, such as floor space, would be written into a government decree instead of a revised Health Promotion Act.

    Smoking would be permitted at existing small establishments for now on condition that they display such signs as "smoking allowed" or "separate smoking." The timing of making such establishments fully subject to restrictions would be provided for by law.

    Major franchise restaurants and newly opened establishments, meanwhile, would be subject to restrictions regardless of their floor size.

    The health ministry intends to enforce less strict regulations on HNB tobacco products than ordinary cigarettes on the grounds that the impact of secondhand smoking from such products on health remains unclear, even though their smoke contains nicotine and other harmful substances.

    At restaurants and bars subject to restrictions, customers could smoke conventional cigarettes only in closed smoking areas where eating and drinking is banned. However, customers would be allowed to dine in HNB-only smoking rooms.

    Establishments and offices in other service industries could set up smoking rooms exclusively for heated tobacco products.

    At all establishments, those aged below 20, customers and employees alike, would be barred from smoking areas.

    In the meantime, smoking would be prohibited on the premises of medical institutions, administrative bodies and schools. However, smoking would be allowed outdoors where measures are in place to prevent secondhand smoking.

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