Revised Act Comes into Force to Penalize Secondhand Smoke in Japan [2020/05/15]
―Novel Coronavirus and Smoking 2―
Though without a lot of fanfare as media coverage has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, the revised Health Promotion Act came into full force in Japan on April 1, featuring stepped-up measures against unwanted secondhand smoke or passive smoking.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Manabu Sakuta, chairman of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control, Mr. Fumisato Watanabe, who heads the Tobacco Problems Information Center, and others for their tireless efforts to lobby for revising the law.
The amended act bans indoor smoking in principle, covering 45% of restaurants and bars across the country. In Tokyo, which enforced a tougher metropolitan ordinance, the smoking ban covers 84% or 130,000 of all eating and drinking places in the capital.
With the changing environment surrounding smoking, a private survey shows that more than 60% of smokers in Japan are thinking about quitting. As I wrote in my previous blog, smokers are exposed to a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. I hope and expect that the coronavirus pandemic combined with the revised Health Promotion Act will further accelerate the trend toward smoking cessation.
Under the partial revision of the law, which took effect in July last year, smoking is prohibited at schools, hospitals, child welfare facilities and government office buildings. Following the full revision effective on April 1 this year, indoor smoking is prohibited at restaurants, bars, company offices and recreational facilities, with smokers who violate the law subjected to fines up to ￥300,000.
But it is not without loopholes. Even under Tokyo’s stricter metropolitan ordinance, smoking is still allowed in designated smoking rooms of restaurants and smoking seats in restaurants with no employees.
It is preferable to impose a total smoking ban at eating and drinking establishments. The revised act lacks teeth to thoroughly implement measures against secondhand smoke. Some restaurants are reluctant to introduce a total ban as they want to lure smokers while others find it difficult to implement the ban due to staff shortages.
As an old proverb goes: There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Many problems remain unsolved even after the revision of the Health Promotion Act; given the way that Japan Tobacco Inc. (JT), a leading international tobacco company based in Tokyo, operates, they are the sort of problems that could potentially draw international criticism sooner or later. I will write about JT someday.
According to the results of an internet survey on smoking and secondhand smoke by Johnson & Johnson K.K. Consumer Company before the revision of the law, 72.2% of smokers feel ashamed of smoking, while 64.3% of them feel like quitting, prompted by the revision of the act, much larger than the 35.7% who do not feel that way.
Smokers now face an increasingly uphill battle. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the revision of the Health Promotion Act, should be a new turning point pushing them to quit. I sincerely hope they will stop smoking to save their own lives and, above anything, those of their loved ones.