A new law targeting smoking took effect in Japan on Monday, banning people from lighting up indoors on government agency, school and hospital premises, with more establishments like bars and restaurants to face similar rule changes next year.
Under the revised Health Promotion Law, fines of up to 300,000 yen ($2,780) could be imposed on smokers and up to 500,000 yen on facility managers for breaking the law.
The scope of the antismoking push will be expanded next April to include some eateries and bars as well as offices, railway buildings and hotel lobbies, among other places, ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games starting in July 2020.
Under the new law, smoking indoors is now completely prohibited at government, educational, medical and child welfare establishments.
The shift is aimed at protecting people under 20, people with illnesses and pregnant women from passive smoke due to it having an outsized impact on their health.
The law allows smokers to light up outdoors on the facilities' grounds on the condition that an isolated smoking area is provided.
Some organizations decided to install outdoor smoking areas on their premises fearing smokers would congregate on the street and bring complaints from the local neighborhood.
The health ministry and the National Personnel Authority have already recommended that government agencies and municipalities not create outdoor smoking areas.
Of the government's 11 ministries' main buildings, only the education and transport ministries totally banned smoking. The health ministry is expected to become completely smoke-free in the spring of 2022.
Among Japan's 47 prefectural governments, Tokyo, Osaka and eight other prefectural governments chose to go completely smoke-free.
The Tokyo metropolitan government closed all six smoking areas within its premises last Friday. "I will put up with the situation while working, thinking as if I were traveling by airplane," said an official.
The majority of schools and hospitals have already voluntarily banned smoking.
A 2017 survey by the education ministry showed about 90 percent of kindergartens, elementary as well as junior and senior high schools banned smoking. A health ministry survey in the same year showed nearly 60 percent of hospitals accommodating 20 or more inpatients also imposed a total smoking ban.
While the law will impact from April 1 eateries and bars, the places where people are most frequently exposed to second-hand smoke, the change has sparked controversy due to the government's approach to exemptions.
Existing eateries and bars with initial capital of up to 50 million yen and customer seating areas of up to 100 square meters will be exempted from the indoor smoking ban and will not be required to have separate smoking areas if they display "smoking allowed" signs at their entrances.
Critics claim the exceptions will allow smoking at more than half of the eateries and bars across the country.