March 24, 2009 / 2:52 AM / 10 years ago

Japan may tighten smoking rules: official

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may tighten rules on smoking in public facilities, a health official said, but he denied a report that Japan could announce plans to ban smoking in public facilities as soon as next month.

Smokers smoke cigarettes at a smoking area in Tokyo February 8, 2007. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Public broadcaster NHK said a ban could be announced for hospitals, government offices and public transport, where smokers can currently be provided with separate rooms to light up.

Shares in Japan Tobacco, the country’s largest cigarette maker and majority owned by the government, sank 3.8 percent after the NHK report before recovering.

“What’s for sure is that we are trying to rewrite the notification on the law to be leaning a little bit more on the nonsmoking side,” said health ministry official Junichiro Mori.

He said the ministry was considering a draft report from a group of experts that said in principle public areas should in future be fully nonsmoking.

Currently the law says nonsmokers must be protected from secondhand smoke — which allows public facilities the option of banning smoking or offering a separate smoking area.

Mori said the new rule would likely change the emphasis in a bid to better protect nonsmokers from cigarette smoke, rather than ban smoking outright.

“Now it will say: if possible make it nonsmoking, but if not then have designated smoking areas,” he said.

While it is gradually toughening its stance, Japan is much more liberal toward smoking than many other places, with countries such as France, Ireland and Italy having banned lighting up in restaurants and bars.

Developing countries are also tightening the screws on smoking, with India banning smoking in public places last year.

Mori played down the likelihood of banning smoking in restaurants, saying there were negative factors that could make it more difficult for them to be made nonsmoking.

Japanese bureaucrats face a balancing act as, along with a health promotion law, it also has the Tobacco Industries Act, which calls for

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