Japan, long seen as a smokers' haven, could soon have a ban on lighting up in bars, restaurants and other public places in the country's second largest prefecture, an official said Wednesday.
The proposed ban in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo would also apply to amusement venues, schools, hospitals and department stores in the region, home to Japan's second-largest city, Yokohama.
The prohibition would be the first of its kind in Japan, which is slowly becoming less tolerant of smoking in public. Offenders may be fined.
Kanagawa authorities plan to submit a bill soon to local legislature so that the ban can take effect in March next year, said Kazuko Hara, the official in charge of the draft legislation.
"Smoking bans are a global trend. This is also part of our campaign to reduce the risks from passive smoking, which may cause lung and other cancers among non-smokers," Hara said.
Japan passed a law in 2003 requiring public facilities to make efforts to fight second-hand smoke.
Smoking is still commonplace in Japan's bars and restaurants, unlike in most other developed countries. But streets, trains and railway platforms are becoming increasingly smoke-free.
In January, almost all Tokyo's taxis introduced a ban on smoking since fewer and fewer people light up in Japan, despite a relatively low tobacco tax.
Japan's smoking rate fell to 26.0 percent in 2007, according to Japan Tobacco Inc, the country's sole tobacco producer which is part state owned.
Some 14.3 percent of people in their 20s light up, compared with 32.7 percent in their 60s or older.
Kanagawa Prefecture is home to 8.9 million people, making it the second biggest prefecture by population after Tokyo. It is situated on the nation's largest industrial belt and hosts some major US military bases.