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Local assembly in west Japan backpedals on secondhand smoke measures

In this April 2018 file photo, a non-smoking sign is seen posted on the outdoor stairs of Kashiba City Hall in Nara Prefecture after a smoking ban on the city hall property came into effect. (Mainichi/Akira Inoh)

KASHIBA, Nara -- A municipal assembly in the western Japan prefecture of Nara has passed a resolution to set up outdoor smoking stations despite its previous efforts to establish a lawmaker-sponsored anti-secondhand smoke ordinance banning smoking on the property of public facilities including the city hall as a first in the prefecture, ahead of the July 2018 passage of the revised Health Promotion Act. The Mainichi Shimbun looked at what happened to Japan's front-runner municipality in efforts to prevent passive smoking.

    The Kashiba Municipal Assembly passed a resolution on Dec. 17, 2021, to "properly operate and further enhance the Health Promotion Act," which requested the city of Kashiba to build outdoor smoking facilities. The resolution interpreted the intent of the law's revision as that it required further consideration to residents who don't smoke by promoting designated outdoor smoking facilities and other measures in public spaces. It also noted that setting up such structures would be beneficial in securing cigarette tax revenue, thought to be a stable resource for the city's coffers, in a continuous and stable manner.

    Under the revised Health Promotion Act, smoking is banned on public property such as in municipal government buildings and on their premises as a general rule, but it allows designated outdoor smoking locations with conditions including creating smoking zones. However, the city of Kashiba removed all outdoor smoking stations in April 2018 when the anti-secondhand smoke ordinance came into effect, which banned smoking on the premises of public spaces. The ordinance even imposed responsibilities on residents to make efforts to prevent passive smoking.

    A municipal health center employee in charge of anti-secondhand smoke measures seemed confused by the latest resolution by the assembly, telling the Mainichi, "It's obvious that an all-out smoking ban is the most ideal. But since it was passed by the assembly, we have no choice but to consider setting up (outdoor smoking facilities)."

    Assemblywoman Aki Manabe, who proposed the resolution, explained the reasons, saying that some people are smoking outside while taking just one step away from the city hall property and creating a passive smoking environment. She also said she decided to present the resolution to the assembly because of the argument surrounding the cigarette tax. But of the city's annual tax revenue of some 9.4 billion yen (roughly $82.6 million), only about 300 million (approx. $2.6 million), or 3.1%, comes from cigarette tax.

    An assembly member who voted for the resolution told the Mainichi, "A number of city employees and assembly legislators hang out at a riverbank near the city hall to smoke, and it's creating an unpleasant sight. We need a place to enclose them."

    Meanwhile, a senior city official said, "While we need to come up with ideas to stop etiquette violations, setting up smoking stations goes against the current." Regarding measures taken up thus far, they added that their understanding was that smoking on the city hall's premises "imposes little risk of secondhand smoke."

    (Japanese original by Akira Inoh, Yamatotakada Resident Bureau)

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