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Banning smoking at eateries a realistic way to protect nonsmokers’ health

The Yomiuri ShimbunDamage to people’s health caused by passive smoking, the inhaling of other people’s cigarette smoke, should not be left unaddressed. Measures should be advanced steadily in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Conflict is growing within the Liberal Democratic Party over the proposal that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has unveiled to strengthen relevant measures, between party members in favor of promoting such measures and those who are cautious about them.

The health ministry’s proposal calls for completely banning smoking throughout the premises of elementary, junior and senior high schools and medical institutions, and inside such buildings as government and municipal offices. Under the proposal, smoking would be banned in principle inside restaurants and business offices, but these establishments would be allowed to set up a room exclusively for smoking. Penalties will be imposed on those who repeatedly violate relevant rules.

Among small eateries that cannot set up a smoking room, smoking is allowed exceptionally at bars and small pubs mainly providing alcoholic beverages.

The health ministry will expedite its efforts to incorporate the proposal into a bill and submit it to the current Diet session.

Measures against secondhand smoking are currently stipulated in the Health Promotion Law and elsewhere, but all require operators of these establishments just to make an effort. Thirty to 40 percent of nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke at the workplace and at restaurants. There is great significance to introducing measures with penalties attached to prevent passive smoking.

With regard to restaurants, LDP members who are cautious about strengthening measures assert that, instead of banning smoking across the board, operators should be obliged to indicate whether their establishment is one where smoking is banned, allowed or has separate areas for smokers and nonsmokers, and then have it left to their discretion what specific measures they adopt for their establishment.

Employees need protection

Under this method, however, the problem of passive smoking would not be solved for the employees of restaurants where smoking is allowed. There are also expected to be such cases as people being unable to refuse when asked by their superiors or business clients to enter a restaurant together where smoking is allowed. The health ministry’s draft calling for smoking to be banned in principle reflects a realistic judgment.

Legislation is in place in 49 countries completely banning smoking inside all public places, including bars. The World Health Organization and the International Olympic Committee promote “tobacco-free Games.” In recent years, banning smoking inside buildings has become standard in Olympic host cities and cities scheduled to host the Games.

The health ministry’s proposal still compares poorly to the international standard. The WHO has also pointed out that such measures as “separating areas for smokers and nonsmokers” by setting up a smoking room would not be enough.

Operators of restaurant businesses and the like worry about potential customers drifting away and oppose the strengthening of relevant measures.

According to surveys taken at home and abroad, there has been little impact on sales even when operators totally banned smoking inside their restaurants. There were even reports that sales increased thanks to a higher number of customers who came in family groups and the like.

The government may as well expand the scope of the total smoking ban indoors in stages while winning the understanding of relevant businesses.

In foreign countries, smoking outdoors is relatively unrestricted. In Japan, many municipalities regulate smoking on the street, as a way to prevent littering. The issue of how to match the on-street smoking restrictions with smoking ban indoors is a challenge.

Needless to say, the freedom to enjoy smoking is not something to be denied. What matters is promoting measures that would be taken from the viewpoint of preventing damage to the health of nonsmokers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14, 2017)Speech



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