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Tokyo metro gov't enacts watered-down ordinance against passive smoking at restaurants

A man smokes a cigarette at "Donzoko" pub in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on June 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Objections voiced by industry associations forced the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to water down a draft ordinance to prevent secondhand smoking at restaurants and bars in the capital in advance of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics before it was enacted on June 27.

Even though regulations provided for by the ordinance are stricter than those in a bill to revise the Health Promotion Act currently under debate in the National Diet, Tokyo's regulations are still laxer than those implemented in other cities that hosted the Olympics and Paralympics.

The metropolitan assembly passed the ordinance on June 27, but how to ensure the efficacy of the regulations will pose a challenge.

"It's our 'health first' policy aimed at protecting the lives of people. We'd like to pass it on to future generations as the legacy of the Tokyo Games," Gov. Yuriko Koike told the metropolitan assembly on June 19 in response to a question about the draft ordinance.

Under the ordinance, smoking is totally banned on the premises of kindergartens, day care centers, elementary, junior high and high schools in Tokyo. The ordinance allows universities, hospitals and administrative organizations to set up outdoor smoking areas, but completely bans indoor smoking at such facilities.

Indoor smoking at offices, nursing care facilities for the aged and sports facilities is allowed only inside smoking rooms from which smoke is blocked.

The most important point of the ordinance is that indoor smoking is prohibited in principle at restaurants and bars that employ workers regardless of the size of seating spaces. Customers can enjoy a cigarette in smoking rooms but are not allowed to have meals in such spaces.

Individually operated and family-run restaurants and bars can determine whether to allow customers to smoke in their establishments.

Under a national government-sponsored bill to amend the Health Promotion Act, indoor smoking would be prohibited at 45 percent of all restaurants and bars because its relevant clauses would not apply to establishments with a customer seating space of up to 100 square meters. On the other hand, 84 percent of all restaurants and bars in Tokyo are subject to the metropolitan ordinance's indoor smoking ban.

Initially, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had intended to totally ban indoor smoking at all restaurants and bars with a customer seating space of up to 30 square meters, and the metropolitan government had planned to support the restrictions.

However, the ministry set more exceptions than initially planned in response to objections to such strict regulations voiced by ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators who are backed by the cigarette and restaurant industries.

The metropolitan government abandoned submitting a draft ordinance to a February session of the metropolitan assembly, and modified its secondhand smoking countermeasures. The metropolitan government stiffened regulations to ban indoor smoking at establishments that employ workers because Gov. Koike, who raised questions about the watered down bill to revise the Heath Promotion Act, apparently attempted to regain her public support that has declined considerably following the House of Representatives general election last autumn.

When the metropolitan government released an outline of the draft ordinance in April, the restaurant industry and others reacted sharply to its contents for fear that its members' sales could decline.

Industry organizations opposing the draft ordinance and citizens groups in favor of and against the move lobbied the metropolitan government over the proposal.

With regard to heat-not-burn tobacco products, the Tokyo government concluded that it has not been proven that such products could adversely affect people's health, just as the national government has claimed, and decided to allow customers at restaurants and bars to dine while using such products in smoking rooms in consideration of opponents to the ordinance.

In Japan, about 15,000 people are believed to die annually because of health damage caused by secondhand smoking. The World Health Organization (WHO) would raise Japan's passive smoking countermeasure rating by just one level from the worst in the four-point scale if the revised Health Promotion Act were to be enacted.

The International Olympic Committee and the WHO agreed in 2010 to promote a "Tobacco Free Olympics."

Cities in the world that hosted the Olympics in recent years, including London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016) introduced laws and ordinances banning indoor smoking and enforced a total ban on smoking at restaurants. Regulations on smoking provided for by the metropolitan ordinance are much laxer than those in other cities that hosted the Olympics and Paralympics.

Many restaurant and bar operators are not convinced by moves to enforce stricter restrictions on smoking ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Shinji Miyashita, 44, manager of the western-style pub "Donzoko" in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, pointed out that it is difficult for small- and medium-sized establishments to set up smoking rooms.

"Only chain establishments run by large companies can afford to set up smoking rooms. Small- and medium-sized facilities, like ours, face limitations on their space and the costs they can foot," he said.

Donzoko would not be subject to regulations under the revised Health Promotion Act. The metropolitan government intends to provide subsidies to help smaller establishments set up smoking rooms. However, such establishments would be required to decrease the number of seats to make smoking rooms.

Moreover, he expressed fears that such smoking regulations would affect the atmosphere at the bar. "Smoke, liquor and conversation have created our unique atmosphere. It would be difficult to enjoy (drinking, dining and chatting) while moving back and forth between the tables and a smoking room," he said. In the past, celebrities such as novelist Yukio Mishima and film director Akira Kurosawa drank and dined at Donzoko while smoking.

The metropolitan government is set to ask municipal and ward governments in the capital that manage local health centers to cooperate in instructing restaurants and bars as well as their customers on its ordinance regulations on smoking and in collecting non-penal fines from violators.

The Chiyoda Ward Government mobilizes 350 personnel to patrol the ward to prevent smoking on the streets. Under the scheme, ward employees patrol with retired Metropolitan Police Department officers -- who are hired as part-time workers -- in pairs and when they spot people smoking on streets, they explain the ward ordinance banning such smoking and ask them to pay a non-penal fine of 2,000 yen.

However, smokers sometimes complain, saying things like, "So where can I smoke?" and "In that case, you should ban the sale of cigarettes in the ward."

(Japanese original by Tatsuya Haga and Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Tokyo City News Department)

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