Most political parties have announced plans to include measures to deal with passive smoking in their campaign platforms for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in July.

They are all proposing to establish a metropolitan ordinance to impose a “total ban” or a “ban in principle” on smoking in public facilities as well as restaurants and other types of eateries prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Since they have yet to announce the specifics, it is not possible yet to assess the effectiveness of their proposals in detail. But it is good that their competition over policy measures to tackle the problem will heighten public interest in the issue.

It is, however, necessary to closely monitor where the debate is going to ensure that the problem will not be seen merely as a policy challenge only Tokyo has to tackle as the city to host the Olympics.

Two years ago, the metropolitan assembly considered creating an ordinance to require restaurants and other indoor facilities to ban smoking or divide the facilities into smoking and nonsmoking areas. But the decision was then postponed.

Members of a panel to discuss the idea set up by the metropolitan government have voiced concerns about the risk of lawsuits filed by businesses claiming they have suffered economic damage from the effects of the ordinance.

Smoking should be restricted by a law rather than by a local government ordinance to avoid forcing individual local governments to face the risk of damages suits and, more importantly, to promote the health of the Japanese people as a whole.

In the arena of national politics, however, the health ministry and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party continue locking horns over the issue, dimming the prospect for the submission of an antismoking bill to the current session of the Diet, which has been the government’s target.

The health ministry’s proposal would impose a smoking ban, in principle, on restaurants and bars but would allow them to install special smoking rooms. In addition, certain establishments including small bars would be exempted from the rule.

In contrast, the LDP has proposed to exempt all eateries whose floor space is smaller than a certain size from the smoking ban on condition that they put up a sign saying smoking is allowed or there is a separate smoking area.

As we have pointed out, even the health ministry’s proposal would be far from sufficiently effective. The LDP’s even more questionable proposal would be unable to prevent nonsmokers, including employees, from being exposed to secondhand smoke against their will.

At a recent meeting of the LDP’s health committee, a member of the panel called for strict restrictions on smoking, saying, “(Cancer) patients who keep working while undergoing treatment cannot choose where to work.”

But the LDP lawmaker was heckled by a fellow legislator who said cancer patients “should not work” if they are concerned about secondhand smoke in their workplaces.

There are many cancer patients who have to continue working to pay their huge medical bills. The gaffe reflects a deplorable lack of understanding about the situation of such cancer patients.

What is notable is that the LDP has also promised to establish an ordinance for the capital to impose, in principle, a blanket ban on indoor smoking in its campaign platform for the metropolitan assembly poll.

Some political pundits say the ruling party is simply maneuvering to prevent a smoking ban from becoming a key campaign topic in response to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s earlier move to propose measures to deal with the problem of passive smoking. Koike is leading a political group competing with the LDP for assembly seats.

But it is hard to believe the LDP is so foolish as to dupe voters in Tokyo to win the election.

There is no reason why what the party can do in Tokyo cannot be done on a national level.

The LDP’s Tokyo chapter should make serious efforts to persuade the party headquarters to follow suit. And the party headquarters should give serious consideration to the proposal.

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. The national no-smoking week has begun. Political leaders should seize this opportunity to take a major step forward toward a smoking ban.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 31