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.