Fines Up to ¥50,000! Japan Will Ban All Smoking in Restaurants Starting April, 2020!

It’s pretty common for foreign visitors to Japan to complain about how they “dislike Japanese restaurants because of all the cigarette smell” or to wonder “why is smoking even allowed in restaurants and cafes? It makes it impossible to stay there for very long.” But things are about to change in April 2020 with an overhaul of the country’s old-fashioned tobacco consumption regulations. Once the government’s upcoming Revised Health Promotion Act and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke are fully implemented, smoking inside facilities with a large number of people will be prohibited, completely overturning Japan’s current regulations. To help people understand just how much the legal landscape will change starting this April, we will be summarizing the contents of the Revised Health Promotion Act and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance, as well as explaining how to distinguish the new Smoking Areas from the Non-Smoking Areas.


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According to the WHO, Japan Ranked Lowest Among 55 Countries that Ban Indoor Smoking

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the history of tobacco regulations is the history of activities by the WHO (World Health Organization). In 1970, when the dangers of passive smoking have started to become recognized as a global health problem, it was the WHO that advised world governments to implement smoking regulations. As the issue of second-hand smoke became more engraved in the social consciousness, in 1988 the WHO established the World No Tobacco Day, which is celebrated every year on May 31, and which aims to normalize non-smoking all around the world. Years later, in 2003, a WTO assembly adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to curb the promotion and sales of tobacco, which sped up legislation against passive smoking, especially in developed countries. 

Today, as a result of these activities by the WHO, places like Ireland, New Zealand, Uruguay, UK, Hong Kong, Turkey, and more than half of the US have introduced laws that completely ban indoor smoking. In addition, as of 2016, there are 55 countries worldwide where indoor smoking in public facilities is not allowed.

Conversely, Japan is far behind the rest of the world regarding smoking control measures. According to a WHO survey that evaluates secondhand smoke prevention in countries around the world on a 4-level scale, Japan was placed in the lowest-tier Level 1 up until 2018 (it's currently at Level 2). That’s because, at the time, Japan had no legally-binding regulations regarding tobacco consumption.

Japan’s lack of any real tobacco regulations up until recently also brings up the issue of the cost and consumption rate of tobacco. In other countries where tobacco is highly regulated like Australia, a single pack of cigarettes costs around 4,000 yen, the highest in the world. In the UK, the price is around 1,400 yen, in the US around 750 yen and in France around 900 yen, while in Japan, one pack of cigarettes goes for 400 to 500 yen, considerably cheaper than everywhere else.

Things also don’t look good when it comes to the number of cigarettes smoked per person per year. In the UK its 828, in the US 1,017, in France 1,090, while in Japan it's a whopping 1,583. Despite the fact that the price and consumption rate of tobacco in Japan are similar to those of Korea, Taiwan, China or the Philippines, most tourists from these neighboring Asian countries often express surprise at the lack of any real tobacco regulations in Japan.

Japan Ramps Up Smoking Restrictions in Preparation for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics

While Japan struggled with underdeveloped smoking regulations in the past, lately they’ve been scrambling to catch up to the rest of the world, and it’s primarily thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled to be held in Tokyo in 2020. Since 1988, all the cities hosting the Olympics have implemented a complete smoking ban, and as the Tokyo Olympics approach, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has been increasingly urging Japan to take action. And so, in July 2018, the Japanese government enacted the Revised Health Promotion Law to rein in secondhand smoking. In June of the same year, Tokyo, in an attempt to strengthen its own tobacco control policies, passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke. The laws are expected to go into full effect on April 2020, before the start of the Olympic Games.

Both regulations will outlaw indoor smoking in areas where large numbers of people congregate, and impose a fine on violators, although they will differ in a few places, like which specific stores and facilities will be affected by the ban. Therefore, here are the differences between the Revised Health Promotion Law and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance, followed by the rules that smokers should be mindful of when visiting Japan.

Only 45% of Japanese Restaurants and Cafes Will Be Smoke-Free?!

In July 2018, part of the Health Promotion Law, enacted to improve the well-being of Japanese citizens, went through a revision and resulted in the creation of the Revised Health Promotion Law. Before the reform, the anti-secondhand smoking measures for the operators of hotels and restaurants etc. were nothing but a non-legally-binding "obligation to make an effort.” That’s why so many places in Japan seemed to have their own smoking rules and why non-smokers were experiencing health issues caused by secondhand smoke. The Japanese government has recognized that leaving such important decisions in the hands of restaurant/hotel operators was not enough, and has instead put a system in place to effectively punish violators.

When the Revised Health Promotion Law takes full effect, the facilities in Japan with a high number of visitors will be completely smoke-free. However, there will be exceptions to this rule.

For instance, as a general rule, smoking will be prohibited on the premises of designated facilities such as elementary, junior high, and high schools, nursery schools and kindergartens, universities, medical institutions, child welfare facilities, administrative facilities, as well as inside buses, taxis, and airplanes. However, they will be allowed to set up outdoor smoking areas.  

Except for restaurants, cafes, and the aforementioned facilities, indoor smoking will be forbidden inside hotels, sports facilities, and railroads, but it will be possible for them to create specially-designated smoking rooms, provided that certain conditions are met. 

In addition, while smoking will be banned inside restaurants and cafes, those facilities valued at less than 50 million yen and with a seating area below 100m2 will be able to allow indoor smoking as long as they provide adequate signage. Thanks to these exceptions, only 45% of Japanese restaurants and cafes will end up smoke-free, with the remaining 55% continuing to allow smoking on their premises.

On the other hand, it will be possible to smoke in bars and pubs that don't serve food as their main purpose, in stores that sell tobacco and cigarettes and don't serve food as their main purpose, as well as in public smoking areas scattered around the capital. All of those places, including the facilities that are exempt from the new regulations, will be equipped with signs specifying what kind of smoking is allowed there. We will be discussing the types of smoking signage later in the article.

As an Olympic Host City, Tokyo Will Establish Its Own Strict Smoking Regulations

In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the Japanese government has established the Revised Health Promotion Law but, as previously mentioned, a lot of facilities will be exempted from it, making it insufficient for an Olympic host city. Because of this, in addition to the Revised Health Promotion Law, Tokyo will introduce its own tobacco regulations for facilities located within the metropolitan area: the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke.

More severe than the Revised Health Promotion Law, the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance will significantly limit the number of facilities exempted from its anti-smoking rules.

For example, while the Revised Health Promotion Law allows for the creation of outdoor smoking areas at elementary, junior high, and high schools, as well as nursery schools and kindergartens, the Ordinance flatly prohibits that, making them all completely smoke-free. The Ordinance’s goal is to protect children and young adults below the age of 20, whose health would be most affected by secondhand smoke.

Moreover, while the Revised Health Promotion Law will permit tobacco consumption in restaurants and shops valued at less than 50 million yen and with floor space less than 100m2, provided they have the proper signage, the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke makes no such exceptions. It bans smoking in all staffed restaurants and cafes while only allowing unstaffed establishments to decide those things for themselves. This way, smoking will be banned in around 84% of Tokyo restaurants and cafes.

Taking into consideration the high percentage of facilities that will be subject to these regulations, it is fair to say that the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance will be far stricter than the Revised Health Promotion Law. A summary of both regulations and their differences can be found below:

■ Differences Between the Revised Health Promotion Law and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke

Both the Revised Health Promotion Law and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance plan to impose fines on offenders of their anti-smoking regulations, but they differ in the amounts that people will have to pay. For instance, if a facility ignores the smoking ban imposed by the Revised Health Promotion Law, the operator of that facility will have to pay up to 500,000 yen, while the smoker will be charged up to 300,000 yen. On the other hand, under the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance, both the facility operator and the smoker who ignored the smoking ban will face the same fine of up to 50,000 yen. Therefore, since the fines apply not only to the person in charge of a facility but also to individuals, smokers visiting Japan are advised to be very careful.

■ Fines According to the Revised Health Promotion Law and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke

Revised Health Promotion Law:
Facility operators: up to 500,000 yen
Smokers: up to 300,000 yen

Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance to Prevent Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke:
Facility operators: up to 50,000 yen
Smokers: up to 50,000 yen

How to Distinguish Non-Smoking Areas from Smoking Areas?

In accordance with the Revised Health Promotion Law and the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance, all the areas in which it's allowed to smoke, including the exempted facilities, will have to put up a sign indicating the type of smoking spaces that they're providing. If you're going to visit these facilities in the future, you'll be interested to know what types of signs you should expect to see in Japan starting from April 2020. Here are the signs that will help you distinguish the smoking areas from the non-smoking ones:

■Sign Indicating a Facility or Venue Where Smoking is Forbidden

■Sign Indicating a Facility Equipped with a Designated Smoking Room

■Sign Indicating a Facility Equipped with a Heated Tobacco-Only Smoking Room

■Sign Indicating a Bar or a Pub Where Smoking is Allowed

■Sign Indicating a Public Smoking Area


In view of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is making an extra effort towards globalization and urban beautification. Smoking has been a social problem in Japan for a long time, and now that it's finally in the spotlight, the country will take significant measures to improve the situation.

Japan has always been a country of manners and rules where everyone is thoughtful of other people by properly standing in line outside of restaurants and before getting on a train, or by bringing their trash home to dispose of it, so these new smoking regulations are bound to catch on. By completely changing their smoking culture, Japan is well on its way to eliminate unwanted secondhand smoke and create a better society for everyone.

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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