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Some Japan cafe, eatery owners fear loss of business as smoking ban goes into effect

A sign informing cafe customers that the entire establishment is now non-smoking is seen on a table, in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward on April 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Tomohisa Yazu)
A sign is seen on the window of a cafe informing customers that the establishment is now entirely non-smoking, in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward on April 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Tomohisa Yazu)

FUKUOKA -- Many eating and drinking establishments across Japan converted all their seating to non-smoking as of April 1 as new anti-secondhand-smoke regulations carrying fines for violators went into full effect -- a change that has some owners worried about a steep decline in business.

In principle, smoking is now banned indoors at all eateries and workplaces, though the transitional phase of the smoking rules had omitted small establishments.

San Fukaya, a long-running cafe in Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, had kept one of its three floors set aside for smokers. However, as of April 1, the first day in Japan's fiscal year, the ash trays were gone.

Eateries like San Fukuya, already seeing lower foot traffic because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, expect sales to decrease further this fiscal year under the indoor smoking regulations.

According to owner Osamu Funaki, sales for March are already down some 30% because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he thinks they will fall another 10-20% because of the regulations. He considered installing a smoking room, but government rules on the strict separation of smoking and non-smoking spaces presented too many hurdles, and he gave up on the idea. Funaki added that his regular customers are telling him that the regulations make them feel small and want to give up smoking.

"Well, it was something that I had to decide on sooner or later anyway," said Funaki, who banned smoking at his cafe for the first time since its establishment in 1956.

However, one of his regular customers, a 72-year-old woman who stops by every morning she goes for outpatient treatment at a local medical facility, told the Mainichi Shimbun with a smile, "I don't smoke, so I'm grateful for the change."

(Japanese original by Masanori Hirakawa, Kyushu News Department)

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