Photo/IllutrationKenji Shibuya, a University of Tokyo graduate school professor, second from left, and others demand the passage of a health ministry bill banning passive smoking at the health ministry in Tokyo on May 24. (Ryosuke Nonaka)

In the campaign to clear the air of secondhand smoke in Japan, a group of about 220 people including athletes, professors and cancer patients are banding together to demand a public indoor smoking ban.

Among those in the group are Dai Tamesue, a former world bronze medalist track-and-field star and actress Aki Mukai, a cancer survivor. Group members spoke at a news conference at the health ministry in Tokyo on May 24 in support of a bill to strengthen passive smoking measures.

“Secondhand smoking is resulting in 15,000 deaths annually," said the group's lead founder, Kenji Shibuya, a professor of global health policy at the University of Tokyo graduate school. "An indoor smoking ban is the best measure to preventing these deaths. We demand a measure based on science.”

The group, which is employing the slogan, “Let’s abolish passive smoking deaths,” is attracting many supporters through social networking sites.

Under the health ministry bill, smoking would be mostly banned inside restaurants and other buildings. However, lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are strongly opposing the ban.

The bill would ban indoor smoking at restaurants, in principle, excluding bars or “snack” hostess pubs with a space of 30 square meters or smaller. It would allow smoking only in designated smoking rooms installed in restaurants.

Ichiro Kawachi, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard University’s public health school, said in a video message at the news conference that many cities in the United States and many European countries have banned smoking in restaurants. To keep Japan a healthy country, he is advocating a total ban on smoking in all dining establishments.

On its website, the group's founders also list Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They are seeking members who want to join as founders through the Japanese webpage: (