Japan - Health Ministry set to urge all local governments to go smoke-free..

February 19, 2010 - The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is set to urge all local governments to introduce a total ban on smoking in public places in principle to help prevent health hazards caused by secondhand smoke, sources said. Having judged that the mere separation of smoking areas is not adequate to protect people from secondhand smoke (SHS, environmental tobacco smoke, ETS, passive, sidestream involuntary smoking) the ministry is believed to be seeking a total ban in schools, hospitals, restaurants and other public places.

The ban would also extend to theaters, department stores, private and public offices, stations, hotels and amusement facilities. Taxis and buses would also be included in the ban.

The ministry will allow the operators of such facilities as restaurants and hotels to keep separated smoking areas as a tentative measure if the ban would seriously hurt their business. The ministry, however, would eventually seek the total ban in these facilities, too.

The notification will be issued under the name of the ministry's health service bureau chief in line with the Health Promotion Law. The law obliges facilities used by many people to introduce measures to prevent nonsmokers being affected by secondhand smoke. However, violators will not be penalized.

A ministry panel of experts discussing ways to combat passive smoking in the workplace is to compile a report in April obliging business operators to try to prevent passive smoking. But opposition from business operators is expected as the measure would require a revision of the Industrial Safety and Health Law.

The Kanagawa prefectural government, which in April will be the nation's first local government to enforce an ordinance to ban smoking inside public spaces, welcomed the move. "We'd hoped our efforts would spread throughout the nation. It's great to hear that the national government decided to make the move," said Yasuo Ide, an official of the prefectural government's tobacco management office. (Kanagawa Eateries Going Smoke-Free.)

Bungaku Watanabe, editor in chief of monthly magazine Kinen (nonsmoking) Journal, said separate smoking areas are not enough to prevent secondhand smoke, and that people who want to quit smoking also need support. "A total ban on smoking is necessary. The government should go further than sending the notice," Watanabe said. "It's important to promote antitobacco measures by revising the law to impose penalty on offenders or by increasing tobacco prices."

Hisashi Nakai, secretary general of the Japan Food Service Association, an industrial body of restaurants and catering businesses, said that while it respected the basic societal trend toward protecting health through the prevention of secondhand smoke, it also wanted to cater to customers who wanted to enjoy tobacco while drinking at a bar. "We want to decide our policies after reading the notice and seeing the moves of local governments," he said.

Reference: Govt to urge total smoking ban in restaurants, hotels, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Yomiuri.co.jp, 2/19/2010.

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