Japan - McDonald's to introduce smoking ban over next several years..

August 10, 2010 - McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan) Ltd., the largest restaurant chain in Japan, doesn’t plan to accommodate smokers, chain or otherwise, when it revamps a chunk of its some 3,500 stores over the next several years, according to Japanese daily Asahi, citing sources close to the matter.

Most of the estimated 1,050 newly renovated or replaced stores will be subject to the ban, except for outlets that draw heavy smoker traffic, like stores within a plume’s distance of a train station. McDonald’s Japan didn’t respond to requests for comment, but if the move comes off it will be despite forecasts that it will lead to a drop in sales in a country where smoking is still widespread for the time being, reflecting Japan’s glacial-pace shift towards becoming a more smoke-free society.

Whereas smokers long enjoyed the freedom to spark up nearly anywhere at will, the number of public places where people are allowed to smoke is gradually dwindling amid a growing chorus of government and public voices citing cigarette-related health concerns in recent years. The trend even prompted the dominant cigarette maker here, Japan Tobacco, to develop and market an increasingly popular smokeless cigarette system that allows users to beat the clampdown. (Japan Tobacco, Inc. Zero Style Mint, company says it is selling well..)

On April 1, Kanagawa prefecture instituted the first total ban on smoking in such places as government offices, schools and hospitals. (Japan, Kanagawa Prefecture to ban smoking on beaches..) McDonald’s already instituted a non-smoking policy at all of its 298 Kanagawa-based restaurants from March 1. Narita International Airport imposed similar restrictions in all its restaurants at its two passenger terminals as of June 1. But smokers were still allowed to have a puff at restaurants with smoking areas that are completely enclosed, said Narita International Airport Corp during the announcement in late May. In addition, the airport operator said it will maintain the 34 existing smoking areas at the airport.

Such exceptions to the rule reflect Japan’s ongoing addiction to the flammable cylindrical stick and the country’s piecemeal approach to stubbing out where smokers can light up. Local governments have increasingly set up designated outdoor areas where smoking is allowed, creating a new visual phenomenon. Forbidden to smoke on train platforms since 2002, crowds of Tokyo commuters in the central Chiyoda ward now pack into a narrow box for one last drag before darting off to their final destination and tired shoppers in need of a fix huddle around the silver ash-collecting canisters set up outside the upscale Takashimaya department store in Tokyo’s congested Shinjuku neighborhood.

But such outdoors restrictions may be a smokescreen for what happens behind closed doors. The nicotine-hungry are in large part still able to smoke freely in cafes, bars and restaurants — and it is not commonplace for restaurants to have partitions set up guarding the nonsmokers from those who do.

Still, change may be on the way, at least on smoking in the workplace. In late May, an expert panel of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, submitted a proposal for the government to consider whether to require businesses to impose a total ban on smoking in workplaces or install smoking rooms. The proposal was part of a report set to serve as the basis to deliberate revising the current industrial safety and health law.

Reference: McDonald’s to Snuff Out Smoking in Japan?, Japan Real Time, 8/10/2010.

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