Japan - workplace smoking ban likely in 2011..

December 27, 2010 - A proposal to ban smoking in Japanese workplaces would herald a big political shift in the world's fourth-biggest cigarette market and accelerate the decline of its giant tobacco lobby, industry experts say. It would also bring Japan into line with much of the developed world, where prohibitions on smoking at work have been widespread for years. (Japan's workplace smokers, and their research foundation, lose puff, Justin Norrie, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2/27.2010)

Back on December 7th it was learned that a government panel plans to propose a bill to require employers in Japan to ban smoking in workplaces or set up smoking rooms, but will not include any penalties, government officials said Monday. The panel will present the proposal to the minister of health, labor and welfare before the end of the year to allow the bill to be submitted to the Diet during its ordinary session in the first half of 2011. Although some labor representatives at the panel’s meeting Monday, December 6th called for some penalties to ensure compliance with the requirement, the panel eventually endorsed management representatives’ opinion that imposing such punishment would be too tough for employers, the officials said. The proposal will also urge the government to provide financial and other support for employers to promote antismoking measures. (Japan plans to impose workplace smoking ban, but without penalties, JapanToday.com, 12/7/2010)

The advisory committee submitted the plan this week to Health Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa, Legislation will probably be submitted next year to Parliament.

Japan now has a voluntary policy on smoking. A 2007 survey found just over half of businesses had not taken steps to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke by totally banning the practice or creating leak-proof smoking rooms. A government order banning smoking in all offices, factories and stores to protect nonsmoking employees and customers from secondhand smoke will likely be implemented next year. The measure would significantly ratchet up regulations from the current nonbinding rule. This has left restaurants and bars, unable to ignore the wishes of customers who like to light up, worried about how to comply with the new restrictions.

The new regulation would, in principle, force all places of business to completely ban smoking or separate smoking areas in rooms smoke cannot leak out of. According to a 2007 survey by the ministry, 53.6 percent of businesses had yet to introduce either a total ban on smoking or establish separate smoking areas.

In February 2010, the ministry issued a nonbinding notice banning smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. (Japan - Health Ministry set to urge all local governments to go smoke-free..) "The [antismoking notice] has not penetrated enough," a ministry official said. The ministry wants to strengthen the regulations to force business and factory owners and operators to choose between a complete ban on smoking or building a segregated area.

In a 2008 survey by the Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association on action taken by restaurants and bars against secondhand smoke, 50 percent of respondents said they wanted to prevent passive smoking but business must come first. Only 32 percent said clearly that exposure to secondhand smoke should be prevented. Even if an exception is granted, simply separating smoking and nonsmoking tables probably would be insufficient, as there would be limits set on the quantity of dust in the air. Therefore, investment in ventilators or other equipment likely would be necessary, a difficult burden to shoulder for small eating and drinking establishments.

Global-Dining Inc., a Tokyo-based chain of 60 restaurants and other food service operations, made all of its stores smoke-free in March, with the exception of a cigar bar. The company said it is commonly accepted overseas that smoking is not allowed in restaurants. The chain's customers have praised the decision.

The nation's smoking rate was 23.4 percent in 2009. With the number of smokers dwindling and tough new regulations on the horizon, Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT) is in crisis mode. In November, JT sent the ministry a letter claiming the new rules would have many negative effects, such as a decline in revenue at bars and restaurants.

The ministry does not stipulate any penalties, such as fines, for those who flout the rule, but said it would try to make the regulations stick by allowing the labor standards inspections office to issue correction instructions. Inspectors will have the right to enter businesses and conduct inspections at will, and violators will have to report on their corrective measures to the office.

However, Fumisato Watanabe, editor in chief of Kinen Journal, a monthly magazine on stopping smoking, criticized the lack of penalties. "It's like if traffic violators didn't face any punishment," Watanabe said. "It's meaningless."

A senior ministry official said: "As long as society is tolerant of smoking, it's difficult to completely get rid of secondhand smoke. Public opinion will determine how effective the regulations will be."

Reference: Workplace smoking ban likely next year, Yuki Inamura and Tomoko Koizumi Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers, Daily Yomiuri online, 12/25/2010.

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