Japan, once thought of as a smoker's paradise, just made it harder to light up in public.
The country's National Diet on Wednesday approved the first nationwide legislation which bans certain tobacco products indoors at schools, hospitals and government offices.
The amendment revises the Health Promotion Law and seeks to lower the hazards associated with secondhand smoke. But critics believe the law, approved by Japan's upper house Wednesday after it was passed earlier by the lower house, is ineffective against preventing health risks.
At restaurants with more than 1,076 square feet of customer space and all newly constructed establishments, customers can only smoke in specific areas that are "well-ventilated" and in which no drinking or eating is allowed, according to the Japan Times.
The amendment permits indoor smoking at smaller restaurants and cafes, which currently make up 55 percent of eateries in the country, according to the Japan Times. These establishments must post a sign warning they allow smoking, and people under the age of 20 will not be able to enter.
The legislation falls short of Japan's health ministry's original draft bill, a comprehensive smoking ban in restaurants and bars nationwide, the Japan Times reports. The ban was watered down after proprietors of izakaya, or Japanese pubs, expressed fear about how it would affect their customers. The ruling Liberal Party was also opposed to the legislation because the former tobacco monopoly Japan Tobacco is still partially state-owned, according to The Associated Press.
One fifth of adults regularly smoke in Japan. The rate for adult men between the ages of 30 and 50 is nearly double that, according to a 2017 government survey reported by the AP.
An estimated 15,000 people – mostly women and children – die each year due to secondhand smoke, according to government estimates and the World Health Organization.
Mikio Kawamata, a professor of rehabilitation studies at Kyushu University, told the Japan Times the amendment is a "welcome" effort toward limiting the effects of secondhand smoking, but it still does not match global standards. The amendment is expected to raise Japan's WHO grade of anti-smoking efforts by one rank to the second-lowest level.
“It’s a real pity that the revision didn’t even match up to the standards upheld by Tokyo,” Kawamata said.
Tokyo separately passed an ordinance last month banning smoking at all eateries with employees, unless employees are family members of the owner. It is expected to affect 84 percent of Tokyo restaurants and bars.
The Japanese law will be implemented in phases through April 2020, which leads up to the Olympic Games held in Tokyo. Violators can face fines of up to $2,700 for smokers and up to $4,500 for facility managers and employers.