Japan fails to ignite ‘zero tolerance’ passive smoking ban under anti-cancer law

Ruling party lawmakers with links to tobacco and hospitality industries opposed the move

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 5:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 10:40am

The Japanese government failed to toughen a passive smoking ban in its new anti-cancer programme, which was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, without support from the ruling party representing industries to be affected by the measure.

A health ministry expert panel suggested the programme in June, which sets out the country’s anti-cancer policy for the next six years, starting from the beginning of the 2017 financial year. It included a “zero tolerance” approach for second-hand smoking both at home and restaurants, but the move met strong opposition from the Liberal Democratic Party.

Japan’s existing anti-cancer programme calls for the eradication of passive smoking at government buildings and medical facilities by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics, and to lower the ratio of those exposed to smoke produced by others at home and restaurants to 3 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.

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With some members holding strong ties with tobacco and restaurant industries, the LDP has insisted small eateries and bars should be exempt from the ban. The government initially hoped to gain cabinet approval for the new anti-cancer programme this summer, but a lack of consent by the ruling party pushed the schedule back.

Separately, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been in a stand-off with the LDP over a bill to strengthen Japan’s legislation combating passive smoking.

Divided over what kind of eating and drinking establishments should be designated as exceptions to an indoor smoking ban, the government failed to submit a bill to revise the country’s Heath Promotion Law to the ordinary Diet session, which concluded in June.

Health minister Katsunobu Kato said the government would try to present the bill to the Diet “as soon as possible to effectively root out unwanted passive smoking”.

In line with the bill’s content, the ministry plans to add numerical targets on smoking control in the anti-cancer programme.

The programme was given cabinet approval on Tuesday despite the issue of a passive smoking ban being left untouched, as the ministry feared further delay could affect the compilation of anti-cancer measures by local governments.

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Estimating that about 15,000 people die annually in Japan from second-hand smoke, the ministry has called for more aggressive preventive steps. Based on the World Health Organisation’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 new anti-cancer programme also calls for raising the ratio of people undergoing cancer screenings to 50 per cent from the current 30 to 40 per cent to decrease fatalities through early detection.

It also seeks to increase the ratio of those receiving detailed examination following initial cancer screenings to 90 per cent.

The programme promotes individualised medicine, which enables cancer patients to choose suitable treatments according to their types of genes. It also features guidelines on medical care catered to elderly cancer patients who often suffer from dementia and other diseases.