Japan tardy in preventing passive smoking


Health risks caused by passive smoking or inhaling of tobacco fumes from others pose serious concern in Japan as in many other countries. Kota Katanoda, chief of the Division of Cancer Statistics Integration of the Center for Cancer Control and Information Services (CIS) at the National Cancer Center Japan, reported in May 2016 that “15,000 people die annually in Japan due to diseases caused by passive smoking”. On March 1 this year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare unveiled a draft bill on amendment of the Health Promotion Act aimed to beef it up with penalty for breach of anti-passive smoking provisions.

The present law enforced in 2003 requires the managers of public facilities such as schools, hospitals, theaters and restaurants to “take necessary steps to prevent passive smoking.” However, it has no binding power as it does not penalize violations. The proposed amendment sets penalties for wrongdoers. The draft bill reads, “In the case of serious offenses, managers of the designated facilities shall pay a maximum of 500,000 yen and persons who smoked there shall pay a maximum of 300,000 yen in correctional fine.” The government submitted the amendment bill during the last Diet (parliament) session.

The British medical journal Lancet reported six years ago that an estimated 600,000 people died of passive smoking-related diseases all over the world in 2004. This clearly indicates that health damage caused by passive smoking is a major social issue in many countries including Japan. In this situation, a comprehensive indoor smoking ban has been put into force in the United States (New York State), the United Kingdom, Canada and Brazil. Similarly, China, Russia, South Korea, France and Germany have banned smoking in the premises of public facilities.

In Japan, however, prevention of passive smoking is not making much progress. Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, deputy director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), made a bitter statement during his visit to Japan on April 7. He said, “Japan’s initiatives are outdated.” Among Japan’s municipalities, anti-passive smoking ordinances with penal provisions were enforced only in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2010 and then in Hyogo Prefecture in 2013. A group made up of 133 insurance companies petitioned Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike for a similar ordinance in September 2016.

The proposed amendment to the Health Promotion Act was aimed to trigger a national debate on the government’s initiative to ban passive smoking. However, the amendment bill drew criticism from some lawmakers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who said its provisions are “too rigid”. As a result, the bill failed to be enacted during the last Diet session which adjourned on June 18. It seems the day when no one suffers from passive smoking in Japan is still far away.

Written by: Yuto Yawata








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