TOKYO -- Restaurant and other industry groups here are fiercely opposing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's proposed ordinance for a total smoking ban at restaurants and bars hiring employees, which would affect 84 percent of all eating and drinking establishments in the capital.
On April 24, four industry groups whose members include restaurant and tobacco shop operators filed a petition with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike for a review of the plan to introduce the ordinance -- which is stricter than a central government-submitted bill to revise the Health Promotion Act.
"The proposed ordinance is a blanket and excessive regulation that cuts down on small- and middle-sized business operators," the industry groups said during a meeting with Koike.
A growing number of members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly are also cautious about the proposed ordinance aimed at preventing secondhand smoking at restaurants and bars.
"If a total smoking ban is introduced, the number of customers will drop, driving some businesses to go under," complained Tomoyuki Utsuno, 63, a representative of a federation of life and health business associations comprising restaurants, bars and other establishments in Tokyo, during a press conference held after the meeting with Koike.
The petition was joined by a business association of mahjong parlors, whose customers are predominantly smokers. The industry groups submitted signatures of 181,982 people calling for the metropolitan government to take the opinions of residents and business operators in the capital into account.
The gist of the proposed ordinance stipulates that smoking is generally prohibited at restaurants and bars hiring employees, with smoking only allowed within a dedicated room inside those establishments. Restaurants and bars that do not hire staff can choose between making their establishments non-smoking or smoker-friendly. Such rules are stricter than a central government-sponsored bill to revise the Health Promotion Act, which permits smoking at establishments whose floor space for customer seating totals 100 square meters or less.
The initial draft revision to the Health Promotion Act, however, met a fierce backlash from ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators backed by restaurant and tobacco industries, and the central government ended up relaxing the proposed regulations that would exempt 55 percent of restaurants and bars from a blanket smoking ban -- a figure estimated by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The four industry groups that met Gov. Koike on April 24 argue that they generally support the bill to revise the Health Promotion Act, now up for debate in the Diet.
While the metropolitan government is set to submit the draft smoking ban ordinance to the metropolitan assembly in June, the fate of the bill remains unknown as the Tomin First no Kai, a regional party effectively led by Koike, falls short of occupying a single-party majority in the assembly. As the ordinance bill is called into question in terms of protecting employment by not only LDP members of the assembly but also by Japanese Communist Party members, the metropolitan government is likely to be pressed to modify the bill.
(Japanese original by Akiyo Ichikawa and Tatsuya Haga, City News Department)