A gaffe-prone politician of the ruling party sparked another outrage by saying that cancer patients “should not work” if they are concerned about secondhand smoke in their workplaces.

Lower House member Hideo Onishi of the Liberal Democratic Party was reprimanded and later apologized to cancer patients for the remark, which came to light this week.

Onishi made the comment when he was heckling fellow LDP member Junko Mihara at a May 15 meeting of the party's health committee, sources told The Asahi Shimbun. The discussion at the close-door meeting was about protecting nonsmoking customers and workers from passive smoke at restaurants, bars and cafes.

“(Cancer) patients who keep working while undergoing treatment cannot choose where to work,” Mihara said. “I would like you to be aware of those people in vulnerable positions.”

Onishi, who opposes a comprehensive smoking ban at public places, then blurted out: “They shouldn’t be working.”

Hakubun Shimomura, acting secretary-general of the LDP, gave Onishi a strict warning on May 22.

On the same day, Onishi explained his remark to reporters at the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district.

“I offer my apologies for hurting the feelings of cancer patients and those who have recovered,” he said.

But he declined to retract the remark.

“I am in a support of allowing conditional smoking in small eating and drinking establishments,” the lawmaker said. “The remark, ‘they shouldn’t be working,’ referred to cancer patients who work at the very very few outlets that allow smoking. I did not mean all cancer patients should not work.”

The Japan Federation of Cancer Patient Groups held a news conference at the health ministry in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district on May 22 to demand a ban on smoking inside public buildings, in principle, and strict measures against secondhand smoke.

Shinsuke Amano, chairman of the board of directors of the federation, addressed Onishi’s remark at the news conference.

“We are feeling a sense of crisis that (the remark) may cause a retrogression after all the progress governmental policy has made to encourage cancer patients to maintain work and lifestyles while receiving treatment,” Amano said. “I feel sad rather than angry.”

Smoking is still permitted at many restaurants, cafes and bars in Japan. However, more businesses are going smoke-free as awareness of the health risks has expanded. The government has also floated the idea of banning public smoking by the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Onishi has previously been in spotlight for his comments.

In a March 2016 meeting, he made a denigrating remark about a woman who performed as a shrine maiden. She had rejected his suggestion that she support the LDP election campaign.

In 2015, Onishi came under fire for saying at an LDP study group meeting, “The most effective way to punish media organizations is to shut off their advertising revenues.”

And in 2014, he heckled a lawmaker of the Japan Restoration Party when she was speaking about Japan’s shrinking population.

“First, you need to have a baby,” he said to her.