A proposed ban on indoor smoking will be postponed at least until this fall, as the health ministry and ruling Liberal Democratic Party could not work out their differences in time to submit the bill in the current Diet session.
Government and party sources said Monday that the ministry and the LDP still cannot agree on what kinds of eating and drinking establishments should be designated as exceptions to an indoor smoking ban.
The current Diet session is set to end on June 18, after which an extraordinary Diet session is expected to be convened in the fall.
The government will aim to get the bill passed in that session, the sources said, in light of the international spotlight set to fall on Japan as it hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020.
In a report last year, the health ministry estimated that 15,000 people die annually in Japan from diseases related to passive smoking.
According to the sources, the bill was initially meant to be submitted to the Diet three months ago, but it has been delayed by the failure of the ministry and the LDP to reach a compromise despite repeated negotiations.
The health ministry wants to limit the smoking ban exemption to very small bars with a floor area of less than 30 sq. meters, but the party wants to make the maximum area 150 sq. meters and allow smoking in any type of establishment that meets certain conditions, such as keeping out minors.
Health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki and LDP chief policymaker Toshimitsu Motegi failed to strike a deal over details about the possible exceptions through their meeting on May 24.
Based on the World Health Organization’s standard, Japan is among the lowest-ranked countries in terms of tobacco control, with no smoke-free law covering all indoor public places.
The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls for a blanket ban on indoor smoking at eight kinds of public places such as hospital, public transportation, restaurant and bars.
Nearly 50 countries have made all eight categories non-smoking, but Japan has yet to designate any of them as smoke-free.
WHO and the International Olympic Committee agreed in 2010 to promote tobacco-free Olympic events.
WHO chief Margaret Chan urged Japan earlier this year to implement measures aimed at making all public places nationwide completely smoke-free.
“I urge you to ensure that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics maintain the long-standing tradition of adopting tobacco free policies and, specifically, I urge Japan to adopt a complete ban on smoking in indoor public places at the national level,” Chan said in a March 29 letter to the Japanese health ministry.
A group of lung cancer patients in Japan called for an early submission of the bill. “Nearly 90 percent of the respondents in a poll said they inhaled smoke at restaurants and cafes,” said Kazuo Hasegawa, head of the Japan Lung Cancer Alliance.