Tokyo wards creating more indoor smoking areas

Tokyo wards creating more indoor smoking areas
An indoor smoking area that was set up through an eased subsidy system in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

To try to stop people from smoking on the streets, Tokyo's Chiyoda and Minato wards have expanded their subsidies for setting up indoor smoking areas.

To implement their plans, both wards have greatly eased the conditions set for granting subsidies to commercial buildings and other places hoping to set up an indoor smoking area.

In Tokyo, it is becoming the norm for municipalities to ban smoking on the streets, while the number of indoor smoking areas has lagged behind. The measures being taken by Chiyoda and Minato wards are thus garnering attention.

The Chiyoda Ward office's new subsidy system started late last year. Previously, it granted subsidies only for a smoking area that was at least 16.5 square meters.

Now, smoking areas with a space of 6.6 square meters or more will be eligible for the subsidy.

The maximum subsidy amount of ¥5 million (S$1.1 million) remains unchanged, but the subsidy's coverage of 50 per cent of the cost has been raised to 100 per cent.

Also, subsidies for monthly maintenance costs have been boosted to cover 80 per cent of costs up to ¥200,000.

In Minato Ward, smoking areas eligible for a subsidy went in April from a space of at least 20 square meters to at least five square meters.

And smoking areas with a space of 20 square meters or larger can qualify for a subsidy of up to ¥10 million, double the previous maximum.

The ward office has also started providing subsidies of up to ¥120,000 a month for five years to cover maintenance costs.

Since the previous subsidy systems made few facilities eligible, they were not used much.

In Chiyoda Ward, only five indoor smoking areas had been created under the subsidy system since its launch in 2009. In Minato Ward, only one smoking area had been set up through the subsidy system since 2013.

In 2002, Chiyoda Ward became Japan's first municipality to pass an ordinance to ban smoking on the streets. Minato Ward followed suit in 2014.

Both wards intended to have the subsidies used for empty spaces in small shops and available tenant spaces in commercial buildings.

"We want the subsidy system to be used well to make our ward more comfortable with a better separation of smoking and nonsmoking areas," a Minato Ward official said.

A Chiyoda Ward official emphasised the benefits, saying, "A commercial facility with an indoor smoking area would likely attract new customers."

Smoking ordinance unclear

To counter the effects of secondhand smoking, the Tokyo metropolitan government set aside ¥1 billion in its budget for this fiscal year.

It launched a new programme to grant subsidies to restaurants and other facilities to help cover the cost of renovations that would create nonsmoking and smoking areas.

In recent years, it has become customary for cities that have hosted the Olympic Games to enact laws or ordinances banning secondhand smoke.

However, it is still unclear whether the Tokyo metropolitan government will do the same by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Last summer, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe was in favour of such an ordinance. However, he has now taken a cautious stance after receiving opposition from the food and beverage industries, which are concerned about a possible decline in customers due to the ban.

Last autumn, an advisory panel of experts was formed to review countermeasures against secondhand smoke.

At the meetings, opinions were divided between those in favour of Tokyo's enacting an ordinance ahead of the Games and those who thought the government should first have a law against secondhand smoke.

At their March meeting, which was supposed to be the final one, they could not reach an agreement, so they declined to provide any conclusions

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