Japan must move faster on anti-smoking law.
Herald Tribune International
Japan must move faster on anti-smoking law / Point of View /Junhaku Miyamoto.
Japan must move faster on anti-smoking law
It has been quite some time since a ban on smoking in public places has become a worldwide
trend. In Japan, too, the health promotion law requires operators of public facilities to
make an effort" to prevent secondhand tobacco smoke. But compared with foreign countries,
Japan lags far behind in terms of measures to protect nonsmokers from inhaling environmental
tobacco smoke. In fact, the Japan Society for Tobacco Control conducted an international
comparison and determined that Japan ranks at the lowest level among industrialized countries.
Meanwhile, Kanagawa Prefecture plans to establish an ordinance to prevent secondhand smoke.
I wish to commend Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa for taking the initiative. However, eating
and drinking establishments raised strong objections to the proposal, saying it could estrange
customers and turn them to Tokyo and other prefectures. In response, the prefecture came
up with a compromise to recognize separation of smoking and nonsmoking sections. At a glance,
the compromise seems reasonable but when we think about health aspects, the idea is
unacceptable. Even if smoking sections are completely closed off, restaurant workers must
serve customers in smoking sections. Therefore, recognizing separation of smoking areas in
an ordinance is tantamount to legally endorsing the practice of requiring employees to work in
unhealthy environments. Furthermore, when restaurants and bars that have smoking sections
and those that completely ban smoking operate in the same area, the flow of customers could
concentrate on those that allow smoking. If that happens, it could cause nonsmoking
establishments to face financial difficulties.
In countries such as Britain, Ireland and Italy that completely banned smoking in public facilities,
the incidence of myocardial infarction and other forms of heart attacks drastically declined
after the enforcement of the ban. Medical authorities in Scotland publicized the effectiveness
of legal regulations, saying they improved physical conditions of not only smokers but also
nonsmokers who had been forced to inhale secondhand smoke. The effectiveness is clear.
There is a limit to what individual local governments can do to regulate smoking in restaurants
and other public places. Smoking should be regulated on the same conditions anywhere in
Japan. The central government should not be content with effects produced by voluntary
efforts stipulated in the health promotion law. It is urged to go further and enact without
delay legislation to enforce measures to prevent secondhand smoke in public places.
I don't know why, but apparently the nation is very eager to control outdoor smoking. For
example, the ordinance to ban smoking on the streets enforced by Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward
is one of the strictest of its kind in the world. But when it comes to regulation of smoking
in enclosed environments, such as restaurants and bars, with the exception of Kanagawa
Prefecture, local governments remain extremely reluctant. In fact, Japan is an exceptional
country where regulations on outdoor smoking are tighter than on indoor smoking.
The health promotion law merely calls for voluntary measures against smoking and does not
provide punishment for violators. Many foreign countries, meanwhile, impose fines on people
who smoke in public places. It is time for Japan to also introduce such penalties. For some
unknown reason, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is inactive. I wonder if the health
ministry does not want to antagonize the Finance Ministry (which counts on revenues from
tobacco tax). What is even more symbolic is meeting rooms of the government and the ruling
Liberal Democratic Party that have many ashtrays on the tables. Images of Japanese lawmakers
smoking while discussing politics in those rooms are distributed across the world by the media.
Under the decision at the 2007 conference of the parties to the World Health Organization
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, signatory nations, including Japan, are required
to ban smoking in indoor and other enclosed public places by 2010. With little time left,
legislation is urgently needed.
The author is a medical doctor and supervisor of the nonprofit website, 'smokefree. jpn. com', based in Tokyo,
that is devoted not to disseminate the harmful effects of second-hand and third-hand tobacco smoke.
Copyright(C) International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2009:
The article was written by Junhaku Miyamoto, M.D., PhD.
This international newspaper was first read by the writer at Bangkok, Thailand.
The opinions are displayed on the Internet in USA, as of September 2014.
Kanagawa Prefecture's Anti-smoke Law
Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa stressed the need to provide a separate indoor smoking room in public places.
This ordinance has directed the whole Japan to the wrong way of smoking control.