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Friday, June 1, 2012
Slow progress in ministry efforts to end smoking
SEOUL — The health ministry on Thursday closed one of the two smoking areas at its offices in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo to coincide with World No Tobacco Day.
While the Health, Labor and Welfare ministry is taking an active role in cutting passive smoking to prevent cancer and lifestyle diseases, government offices overall have been making patchy progress: The Defense Ministry alone has 101 smoking areas.
On May 22, a notice was put up outside the front entrance of a building housing the health ministry and the Environment Ministry informing smokers that the area would be closed for smoking from May 31.
The building used to house many smoking areas, but the health ministry banned all indoor smoking in 2006, limiting smoking to two places outside — one at ground level and the other on the second floor.
Explaining why it has so many smoking areas, the Defense Ministry noted that its premises in Ichigaya cover about 240,000 sq. meters, equal to about five Tokyo Domes, and is home to seven key buildings with about 10,000 employees, including members of the Self-Defense Forces.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is next with 21 smoking areas, followed by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, each of which have 20. The Finance Ministry has 19.
There are five smoking areas at the Foreign Ministry, three each at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and two at the Justice Ministry.
The economy ministry said it used to have at least 20 smoking areas inside its office building but abolished them to save the power needed to run air filters and to use space more effectively. It currently has only outdoor smoking areas.
In 2003, the National Personnel Authority issued a directive stipulating efforts to ban smoking completely in government buildings but also mentioned securing separate spaces for smoking. In response, many ministries have set up smoking rooms.
Most of the ministries said they had no plans to abolish smoking areas. The health ministry said that because prevention of passive smoking under the health promotion law is voluntary, it can only encourage other ministries and municipal bodies to completely ban smoking in their buildings.
"Municipal officials tell us, 'We want the government to take the lead,' " a health ministry employee in charge of the matter said. "It would be ideal if the government could act in unison, but in reality, it is quite difficult," the employee said.