Equal rights for smokersThe incremental extension of a smoking ban has gone into effect nationwide, leaving fewer public places for people to light up. The increased smoke-free zone inside buildings is a necessary step toward the goal of protecting public health and lives. At the same time, however, it is also not right to push smokers out onto the street just because they cannot kick their habit.
From the beginning of July, the government banned smoking in restaurants, bars and Internet cafes that occupy more than 150 square meters (1,615 square feet). The law would stretch to bars and restaurants of more than 100 square meters from January next year to lead to a complete ban in bars, restaurants and cafes from the beginning of 2015. Smoking in such places will cost individuals 100,000 won ($88) and owners of shops and private establishments up to 5 million won if they do not abide the no-smoking rule that includes posting non-smoking signs.
The smoking ban could help reduce health hazards from tobacco that can cause various types of cancers, including lung cancer. Few now disagree on the dangers of second-hand smoke. Everyone is entitled to smoke-free air. Resistance and complaints are inevitable, but in the long run an extensive smoking ban could help bring down smoking rates.
But the implementation of a smoking ban also has its downsides. Smokers are forced to go outside while dining and drinking to have a puff. As a result, streets in bar areas are filled with smokers after dark.
To prevent the streets from turning into smoker zones, private and public establishments alike should increase smoking lounges of adequate size and affordable environment to ensure the rights of smokers. Japan has been successful in enforcing smoking bans in workplaces and public spaces by segregating smoking quarters in parks, train stations and other non-smoking areas.
The government has gained the momentum to ban smoking inside buildings following a Constitutional Court ruling in 2004. At the time, the court ruled that the right to smoke belongs to the realm of individual rights to free choice and the pursuit of happiness, but could harm public health and non-smokers’ rights at the same time.
The right to light a cigarette should be as respected as the right to be protected from hazardous smoke. Authorities must come up with measures to respect both rights.