Smoking Indoors Is No Longer Allowed In Japan
But the guidelines may be different depending on your local government.
According to the partially amended Health Promotion Act, smoking indoors will not be allowed starting April 1, 2020. However, some stores still allow smoking within their premises, and in reality, many points in the guidelines are difficult to understand. Tamaki, a smoking environment consultant at Japan Tobacco (JT), explains what kind of changes are going to happen, how tobacco manufacturers are keeping up with these changes, and how smokers are expected to react, among other topics.
“Starting April 1, generally, smoking indoors in public places is not allowed,” says JT smoking environment consultant, Tamaki.
What’s going to change?
“Indoor smoking is prohibited nationwide, but conditions may vary depending on each local government.”
First, please tell us about your work.
“With the aim of designing a society where smokers and nonsmokers can coexist comfortably, JT has been promoting the idea of having separated smoking areas since 2003. This time, in accordance with the latest amendment, public indoor facilities have become smoke-free by principle. So in order to maintain a smoking environment, they must follow certain restrictions to create different forms of separated smoking areas. In my department, we support different companies, especially big chain restaurants.”
In Tokyo, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Passive Smoking Prevention Ordinance will be implemented on April 1. How is that related to the Revised Health Promotion Act?
“The difference is, the Health Promotion Act is on a national level while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Passive Smoking Prevention Ordinance only covers Tokyo. This is not limited to Tokyo, each local government has its own regulations. Maybe it’s easier to imagine all the regulations of the local governments being carried by the Health Promotion Act.”
“Follow smoking rules so everyone is comfortable,” says Tamaki
When those laws and ordinances are enforced, how will it exactly happen?
“Not every public facility will be regulated. For example, the smoke-free policy only applies to stores that do not fall under criteria ※1. By providing a smoking room or a heated tobacco smoking room, customers can smoke as long as they’re in the designated areas. As for designated areas, aside from smoking rooms, other facilities such as cigar bars can be counted for meeting criteria ※2 as a smoking purpose facility (a facility which is intended mainly to be a place for smoking). Also, the outdoors are not regulated as well. So as long as it’s within store premises, putting an ashtray in front of the store is allowed. Customers can also smoke cigarettes or heated tobacco on terrace seats.
※1: establishments with a capital of ￥50 million or less, a customer seating area of 100 square meters or less, that starts operation on or before April 1
※2: establishments that sell tobacco products over-the-counter”
Is it possible for regulations set by the local governments to conflict with the country’s law?
Example of regulations set by local government
“Actually, local governments have different conditions within their jurisdiction. For example, according to the national law, as long as a restaurant has a designated heated tobacco smoking area on top of the smoke-free area, customers may have a meal. But in Hyogo Prefecture, even if a restaurant has a heated tobacco smoking area, food and drinks are not allowed. Also, smoking rooms, which are not regulated by the law, are built according to regulations set by the local governments. These are revised frequently, so I think it’s best to check the website of your local government from time to time.”
By the way, how about outdoor smoking spaces, such as those near train stations, will these be kept?
“Under this law, outdoor smoking spaces can still be continued. But with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, many foreign tourists are expected to come so that the smoking spaces we already have may not be enough to accommodate all of them. We are working together with local governments to maintain and improve separated smoking spaces.”
Look up smoking spaces in smoking area map, and check for sticker labels near store entrances
Major coffee chain stores are also going smoke-free, but each company seems to have different rules. Is there any way to see the smoking areas in the vicinity?
Smoking area map by CLUB JT
“In JT, our website, CLUB JT, was redesigned in March to display a smoking area map. We are visiting every smoking area in the country in human wave tactic style. Originally, we were managing a service in smartphone applications like LINE, where we post information related to smoking areas coming from the government. But since the update in spring last year, we started posting all information related to smoking areas that we think can be useful, including food businesses. As for the number of smoking areas we have posted so far, it’s around 10,000 spots all over the country.”
I think when foreign tourists come to Japan, we need to inform them if they can’t smoke in the establishment. Is there a website they can check for them to know these places?
“Each local government has their own rules and regulations,” Tamaki says.
“Under the national law, each store must place stickers that indicate whether the space is a smoking or non-smoking zone. In Tokyo, this was implemented starting September last year, and store owners will be fined ￥500,000 or less if found disregarding the rule starting April. Also, in terms of accommodating foreigners, government websites have uploaded PDF files containing sticker designs with pictograms on them, so they can be easily understood even if you can’t read Japanese. We suggest store owners download these designs and post them.”
Sticker example. In this case, smoking cigarettes is not allowed, but heated tobacco is fine.
I have an impression that the knowledge about these stickers is not very widespread.
“The reality is, although the Health Promotion Act has a 75% public awareness rate, the level of this awareness is somewhere along the lines of, “apparently something about tobacco will be changing.” So everyone has heard about it, but when it comes to details like sticker symbols, or smoke-free by principle, only few people understand at this point.”
This April is only the beginning, so confusion is foreseeable…expectations on the Japanese attitude of being considerate to others
On April 1, the law will be enforced nationwide, at once… will it be effective?
“Enquiries have been increasing in March, a few weeks before the enforcement, and we expect that there will be a number of establishments that will only learn about the details after April 1. So in the meantime, we will do our best as smoking environment consultants to respect each business owner’s requests, as we help them improve the smoking environment in their stores.”
Maybe stores will welcome heated tobacco products more in terms of “being considerate to others.”
“In other countries, the number one reason cigarette smokers turn to heated tobacco is because of health concerns, but here in Japan, it’s “consideration to others.” Maybe being concerned about not being a trouble to the people around you is a Japanese thing. I think with this attitude and in line with the Health Promotion Act, more and more smokers will turn to heated tobacco.”
The restrictions on smoking indoors in public places vary according to each local government. Check your local government’s website or use JT’s services, or confirm the signs on the stores you visit and follow smoking rules and etiquette so we can “create a comfortable space for everyone.”
Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (6 April 2020)