The Tokyo metropolitan government has embarked on policy efforts to eliminate passive smoking in public places.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced on Sept. 8 a plan to create an ordinance to ban smoking, in principle, in facilities used by many people, such as offices and restaurants. Koike said her government will seek to submit a draft smoking ban ordinance to the metropolitan assembly by the end of March 2018.

A total smoking ban will be imposed on restaurants, “izakaya” Japanese-style pubs and other kinds of eating establishments although they will be allowed to set up smoking rooms, according to her plan. But certain types of small drinking places with a floor space of 30 square meters or less, mainly bars and small pubs, will be exempted from the ban under certain conditions, including the consent of all the employees.

The blueprint is roughly in line with a proposal unveiled in March by the health ministry.

With an eye to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the ministry considered submitting a bill to restrict smoking in public facilities to this year’s regular Diet session, which ended in June, but decided to postpone the move in the face of opposition from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

We welcome the metropolitan government’s own anti-smoking initiative, which stands in sharp contrast with the central government’s reluctance.

But Tokyo’s plan would not be effective enough. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, whose members include Japan, calls for totally prohibiting smoking in indoor public facilities as part of its guidelines.

Such a total ban without exception is important because the establishment of a smoking room doesn’t eliminate the risk of passive smoking because some smoke inevitably escapes from the room. Moreover, some employees at small drinking places may find it difficult to ask their employers to impose a smoking ban within the facilities.

Before submitting a draft ordinance to the assembly, the metropolitan government needs to make a further assessment of the effectiveness of its plan while examining citizens' opinions on the proposal.

In a separate move, Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo residents first association), a new local party formerly led by Koike, and Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition, plan to jointly submit a draft ordinance to protect children from passive smoking to the metropolitan assembly session scheduled to start later this month.

Their proposal would require citizens in the capital to make efforts to prevent juniors under 18 from being exposed to second-hand smoke as a “duty” of Tokyo dwellers.

The envisioned ordinance would ban smoking in cars carrying children and require smokers to make as much effort as possible to avoid smoking in rooms where children are present in their homes. But it would not include a provision to mete out punishment against violations.

We basically welcome initiatives by metropolitan assembly members to establish regulations to prevent children from being exposed to passive smoking. Such moves would do a lot to make citizens more aware of the problem.

But smoking itself is not illegal. Such regulatory initiatives raise questions about privacy intrusion by the government--how much should the authority be allowed to meddle in such private matters? They would also provoke concerns about the possibility that they could encourage mutual surveillance among people.

When it considers these proposals, the metropolitan assembly should hold exhaustive debate on the details of the drafts and the manner to be enforced if approved.

Restricting smoking should not be an issue only for Tokyo, which will host the Summer Games in 2020.

There is reportedly a consensus among LDP lawmakers over the principle that undesired passive smoking should be prevented.

But the ruling party is making no specific legislative move to codify the principle in the law during the extraordinary Diet session, which is likely to begin in late September.

This is clearly the time to launch a nationwide drive to swiftly eliminate the health hazard posed by passive smoking.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 12