Osaka to expand smoking-ban areas before Expo

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshihiko Kano, chairman of the Hankyu Higashidori shopping district association, collects discarded cigarette butts in Kita Ward, Osaka.

OSAKA — The Osaka city government is set to expand a street smoking ban as part of preparations for the health-themed 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo.

Bans are currently in place at six locations around Osaka. The authorities decided to expand the rules to the whole city by 2025 after receiving complaints about littering and smoking on the street, which has increased since regulations enforcing smoking bans in offices came into effect.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The area around Ebisubashi bridge is seen before being designated as a no-smoking zone in Chuo Ward, Osaka, in January 2018.

In 2007, Osaka first designated areas along Midosuji Avenue and around Osaka City Hall and neighboring Osaka City Central Public Hall as no-smoking zones. The area around JR Kyobashi Station was added in 2015. However, the areas around Hankyu-Osaka Umeda Station, Nankai Namba Station and JR Tennoji Station were not included because these areas are home to many restaurants, so the authorities worried about the impact on the surrounding businesses.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

After the city was chosen to host the Expo in 2018, the city expanded the ban to Ebisubashisuji and Shinsaibashisuji avenues in 2019, and around JR Osaka and Hankyu Umeda stations.

An area around JR Tennoji Station was included in 2020, and an area around Nagahori Avenue was added in 2021.

In these zones, smoking is prohibited on public roads except in specific smoking spaces, and a ¥1,000 fine is imposed on violators. The number of people smoking on such roads declined after the regulations were introduced, but rose to 2,266 in the six months from April to September, the highest pace in recent years.

In fact, street smoking has been said to be on the rise.

On the morning of Nov. 10, more than 10 office workers were seen smoking in front of a tobacco store near the Hankyu Higashidori shopping street in Kita Ward. Smoking is allowed there under the ordinance, and three ashtrays have been installed by the store.

However, the shopping district association chairman Toshihiko Kano lamented the situation as he picked up hundreds of cigarette butts within 30 minutes of starting cleaning surrounding sidewalks and shrubberies.

“Littering and street smoking have gotten worse since spring,” Kano, 50, said.

The revised Health Promotion Law, which strengthened measures against secondhand smoke, went into full effect in April 2020, banning smoking indoors except in designated facilities. Small establishments with dining spaces of 100 square meters or less can choose whether to allow smoking.

In spring, the Osaka prefectural government set a nonbinding goal for restaurants with employees, requiring them to ban smoking indoors. The stricter ban in Osaka than the one set by the central government appears to have spurred the increase in smoking on the street and cigarette butt littering.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions, the city of Osaka had the most smokers in 2019 among Japan’s major cities with the smoking rate at 22.6%, followed by Kitakyushu at 21.8%.

Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui said in November that the ban would be extended to the entire city by January 2025, while at the same time the number of smoking areas would be raised to 120, from the six currently available.

The decision came after the city’s advisory panel submitted an interim report to Matsui in October, saying the city would “need an adequate number of smoking areas to expand the ban to the entire city.”

Many foreign tourists from countries with different smoking cultures will come to the city during the Expo.

“We’ll create smoking areas and eliminate smoking on streets,” Matsui said.

The Japan News