From Apri1 1, a new "revised health promotion law" came into effect nationwide, which essentially banned indoor smoking at places serving foods and beverages.
Concurrent to this, a Tokyo ordinance aimed at protecting people from secondary smoke went into effect, with stricter provisions than the national law.
"The national law gives a break to small-scale food and beverage establishments (capitalized at less than 50 million yen or with less than 100 square meters of customer-use floorspace)," Toshihiro Yatabe, a notary public, tells Weekly Playboy (Aug 31). "These are referred to as establishments where smoking is permitted. But in Tokyo the rules are much stricter and irrespective of capital investment or floorspace -- or if they employ even one part-time worker -- smoking is banned in principle.
"So the ordinance applies to roughly 84% of the establishments in Tokyo, and violators can be penalized."
Unfortunately, loopholes to allow smoking still exist. If smoking and non-smoking areas are separated by barriers that extend all the way to the ceiling, for example, or if exhaust devices are installed, exceptions are made to the rule.
Most of the larger family restaurant and izakaya chains, such as Kushikatsu Tanaka, simply banned smoking outright. Others though, such as Sandaime Torimero and Miraizaka, which belong to the Watami Group, set up separate smoking rooms. In the case of Shirokiya, 85% of its 1,632 outlets have separate rooms set aside for from three to six smokers of cigarettes or e-cigarettes.
"For the tiny drinking shops here in Shinjuku's Golden Gai, not permitting smoking would be a matter of life and death," says Fumiaki Tobayama, who heads the local merchants association.
Fortunately, these establishments have found a loophole in the law. They can apply to obtain the status of "facility operated for the purpose of smoking."
"If they qualify -- giving them the same status as a 'cigar bar' -- then smoking will be permitted. There are three criteria for recognition: the first is that tobacco be sold on the premises," explains Yatabe, who adds that payment of a 3,000 yen fee is required, followed by a visit by an inspector from the Kanto legal affairs bureau. "The second is that minors not be admitted either as employees or customers. And the third requirement is full meals -- consisting of a main dish accompanied by rice, bread and noodles -- not be served."
"It's not that we want to promote ourselves as places where smoking is permitted, nor are we against measure to protect customers from secondary smoke," says the aforementioned Tobayama. "But we do feel that the law as it is now is a bit too heavy-handed for such small establishments."
According to the Kanto legal affairs bureau, compared with 240 businesses that applied for the status of operating for the purpose of smoking in 2018, the number in 2019 rose 7.5-fold to 1,800. And from January through the end of June 2020, the figure rose again to 2,800.
So it seems that one side-effect of the new antismoking law and ordinance is that more businesses are modifying their scope of activities specifically to attract smokers.
The operator of one such business noted unhappily that because of restrictions banning smokers from so many places, "the problem of discarded cigarette butts on the street has become severe. So by providing smokers with a place where they are welcome, we hope to contribute to better smoking manners and fewer violations."
Japan may have put the wheels in motion, but when it comes to the standoff between smokers and non-smokers, it's still got a long way to go before it gets things right.© Japan Today