A heavily watered-down anti-smoking plan won preliminary approval from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday, with newly added exceptions paving the way for continued smoking at eateries.
While the health ministry once sought to introduce a total indoor smoking ban in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it gave up after staunch opposition from the LDP whose members have strong ties with the tobacco and restaurant industries. The amended bill may be sent to the Diet next month.
The current draft, compiled by the ministry, would completely ban smoking at hospitals, schools and government offices. But restaurants and bars would be allowed to set up smoking rooms where no food or drink could be served.
Facilities with customer seating areas of up to 100 square meters and capital of up to ¥50 million ($465,800) would be exempted from the requirement to establish separate smoking areas if they display a sign indicating that their facilities are a “smoking space.” The ministry had originally planned to exempt eateries with a floor space of up to 30 square meters.
As a result of the backpedaling, the ministry estimates that customers at about 55 percent of all restaurants and bars will be able to carry on lighting up without moving to separate rooms, raising questions about the plan’s effectiveness.
People who smoke in violation of the rules will be fined up to ¥300,000, and facility managers who fail to take proper measures — including removing ashtrays — could face penalties of up to ¥500,000.
The draft bill also calls for restricting heat-not-burn tobacco products by requiring eateries to set up special smoking rooms if they want to allow their customers to use them while they dine.
Last year, the government failed to submit a bill to revise the Health Promotion Law strengthening measures against secondhand smoke due to resistance from the LDP.
Based on World Health Organization standards Japan is among the lowest-ranked counties for tobacco control, with no smoke-free law covering all indoor public places.
About 15,000 people are estimated to die in the country every year from passive smoking, and a government survey in 2016 showed that some 40 percent of nonsmokers said they have inhaled smoke from others at eateries.