The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on Wednesday passed an anti-smoking ordinance that is stricter than the national version currently under consideration, in a move intended to rein in secondhand smoke and create a tobacco-free 2020 Olympics.
The capital city’s smoking ban precedes the passage of a similar amendment to the Health Promotion Law that is being deliberated by the national Diet. The Tokyo measure will cover an estimated 84 percent of restaurants and bars across the capital, versus 45 percent likely to be regulated by the revised national law.
The new ordinance seeks to protect the well-being of those deemed vulnerable, particularly children and employees, with a complete ban on smoking on the premises of public facilities such as kindergartens, schools and day care centers.
Although tougher than the national legislation, the ordinance still stops short of outright banning smoking in some facilities. A less stringent measure, for example, will apply to the premises of institutions such as universities, hospitals and government offices, where smoking can be allowed in designated areas outside buildings.
Among those subject to the most relaxed regulation are gyms, hotels and some eateries, where only indoor smoking will be outlawed. Even inside, people will be able to imbibe tobacco in segregated rooms specially equipped to prevent smoke from leaking out.
Strengthening measures against secondhand smoke is an urgent issue for Japan, which — despite its membership in a World Health Organization convention on tobacco control — doesn’t have a nationwide law outlawing smoking in public spaces. A 2017 WHO report placed the nation in the lowest-tier group in terms of smoke-free policies.
Tokyo’s ordinance is slated to take effect starting April 2020, just a few months before the Olympics. It was passed by a majority vote, receiving the backing of parties including Tomin First no Kai and Komeito. The Liberal Democratic Party opposed the measure.
Violators, both facility operators and smokers, will be slapped with a fine of up to ¥50,000. One of the ordinance’s highlights is the tougher stance it takes against smoking in eateries compared to its national counterpart. Under the ordinance, any restaurant or bar that hires employees will face two options: either go completely smoke-free, or set up a segregated room for smokers where no drinking or eating will be permitted.
Exempt from the regulation will be smaller-scale eateries with no employees or those whose only employees are family members — mostly independently operated bars and izakaya pubs. Those establishments can decide at their own discretion whether to ban smoking.
The national version, on the other hand, states smoking will be permitted in smaller restaurants and bars capitalized at ¥50 million or lower and with a floor space of no more than 100 square meters, which would exempt an estimated 55 percent of all eateries. The Tokyo ordinance does, however, have loopholes.
Like the Health Promotion Law amendment, it places no penalty on use of the increasingly popular heat-not-burn cigarettes, as adverse health effects stemming from their secondhand smoke have not yet been scientifically proven. What this means is that in restaurants and bars, for example, customers will be able to eat and drink while puffing on e-cigarettes in dining spaces that had been allocated to smokers under the so-called bunen system that divided seats into smoking and nonsmoking areas, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said.
Upgrading measures against secondhand smoke has been one of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s more highly promoted projects. Koike became the first female leader of the nation’s capital in 2016, winning an election in which she vowed to bolster support for women and children.