Japan may tighten smoking rules: official

Tue Mar 24, 2009 6:49am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota

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.

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.   Continued...

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