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25% of local gov'ts hosting Olympic venues looking to get tough on passive smoking: poll

People gather at a smoking area in front of JR Shimbashi Station on Aug. 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

One in four local governments that will host venues for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are considering enacting or revising ordinances to prevent secondhand smoking, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

In June, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly passed an ordinance and the Diet enacted a bill to revise the Health Promotion Act the following month, both with the aim of beefing up countermeasures against passive smoking. Shibuya Ward and the city of Chofu in Tokyo are aiming to implement their own measures to further stiffen regulations on secondhand smoking.

Many local bodies hosting Olympic and Paralympic venues are exploring the possibility of enacting their own ordinances against passive smoking to make up for shortcomings in the revised law. The World Health Organization will raise Japan's passive smoking countermeasure rating by only one ranking from the lowest level in the four-point scale even after the revised Health Promotion Act fully comes into force.

The Mainichi Shimbun surveyed eight prefectural governments excluding Tokyo -- Hokkaido, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka -- as well as 25 cities, wards and towns that will host venues for the Tokyo Games.

Eight of the local bodies answered that they will consider enacting or revising ordinances aimed at strengthening regulations on secondhand smoking.

The revised Health Promotion Act that will fully come into force in April 2020 and the Tokyo metropolitan ordinance ban smoking at indoor public spaces with punitive clauses. However, up to 55 percent of restaurants and bars will not be subject to regulations under the amended law and nearly 20 percent of such establishments will not be covered by restrictions under the metropolitan ordinance.

Therefore, the government of Shibuya Ward, which is home to many entertainment districts, said ensuring the efficacy of the revised law and the ordinance will pose a challenge.

The Chofu Municipal Government pointed out the amended law is insufficient because the scope of places where smoking is allowed is too wide. The city intends to take its own measures such as requiring completely non-smoking restaurants and bars to put up signs saying smoking is prohibited indoors as well as banning smoking outdoors around Olympic and Paralympic venues its hosts.

The city of Chiba and Shizuoka Prefecture are seeking to enact ordinances aimed at preventing secondhand smoking in the September sessions of their respective assemblies.

In principle, the city of Chiba is considering banning indoor smoking at restaurants and bars staffed by employees regardless of their floor spaces, just like the Tokyo metropolitan ordinance.

Shizuoka Prefecture is preparing to incorporate a clause completely banning smoking on the premises of kindergartens, day care centers and schools in an ordinance it aims to enact. The prefecture intends not to allow such facilities to even set up smoking rooms.

Kanagawa Prefecture, which enforced an ordinance banning secondhand smoking ahead of the national and Tokyo metropolitan governments but has never applied its punitive clauses, will consider how to step up its countermeasures in advance of the Tokyo Games.

The Shizuoka Prefecture town of Oyama, where the bicycle racing event will finish, replied that the municipal government "must consider how to deal with smoking on streets."

Noting that regulations under the revised Health Promotion Act have their own limits, the Izu Municipal Government in Shizuoka Prefecture responded that it will consider how it should regulate secondhand smoking while taking the prefectural government's measures into account.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government responded that assembly members are holding discussions on proposing an ordinance at their own initiative. The northernmost prefecture expressed dissatisfaction with the national government's countermeasures, saying that they are "inadequate for a smoke-free Olympics."

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey in 2016 showed that the ratio of smokers to adults in Hokkaido came to 24.7 percent, the highest of Japan's 47 prefectures. The prefectural government found in a survey conducted between January-February 2017 that 61.2 percent of restaurants and bars failed to take any countermeasures against passive smoking such as establishing specific smoking areas.

"We need our own ordinance to change the environment that makes it easy for people to smoke," a prefectural government official said.

The Fujisawa Municipal Government in Kanagawa Prefecture insisted that indoor smoking should be prohibited at all restaurants and bars.

Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward Office, which became the first local body in 2002 to enact an anti-secondhand smoking ordinance providing for non-penal fines for violators, has no intention of reviewing the ordinance such as loosening its regulations.

An official of the ward said, "We'd like to promote the coexistence of smokers and nonsmokers such as by encouraging more smoking spaces to be set up."

The capital's Sumida and Shinagawa wards as well as the city of Fuchu are poised to maintain their anti-passive smoking ordinances, while Ota Ward will ask experts to discuss measures, including the possibility of stiffening regulations.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Sakai and Ryosuke Abe, Tokyo Medical Welfare News Department)

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