Japan approves watered-down anti-smoking law

Tokyo: The Japanese Parliament on Wednesday approved an amendment to the anti-smoking law that will prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and public spaces for the first time after a long debate in which the opposition criticized the government for lax implementation of the existing law.

The ban, which will be implemented in stages and fully enter into force in April 2020, seeks to expand smoke-free spaces in the country that is known to be one of the most relaxed in terms of smoking regulations, Efe news reported.

In Japan, bars and restaurants allow smoking, without the need for designated non-smoking zones.

The proposed amendment is, however, much watered-down from the original proposal of the Ministry of Health, and exempts more than half of the domestic hospitality establishments.

In bars and restaurants smoking would be banned in principle, except for establishments with an area for customers up to 100 square metres or a capital of 50 million yen (around $453,000).

There would also be no need to set up separate smoking zones provided there is a sign at the entrance indicating it is a smoking space.

Under these conditions, about 55 per cent of Japan’s restaurants would be exempt from the law, although it is still a progress for a country that has been ranked by the World Health Organization as one of the worse in the world in terms of its anti-smoking policies.

The updated national law is, in fact, even less stringent than the city ordinance approved by Tokyo at the end of June that prohibited smoking in 84 per cent of bars and restaurants in the capital and banned smoking zones outdoors.

The new national law will prohibit smoking in hospitals, schools and government offices, except in designated areas outdoors, and for the first time will introduce fines of up to 300,000 yen for offenders.

The original law was diluted by the ruling Liberal Democrat Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under pressure from the tobacco and hotel industries.