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Japan

Tokyo struggles with smoking ban ahead of Olympics

Japan's capital city is fuming over an anti-smoking bill ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Previous Olympic host cities have passed anti-smoking measures, and the IOC and WHO are hoping for the same in Tokyo.

Japan's lax laws on smoking have come under fire by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), both of which are hoping for strong anti-smoking regulations for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics.

"The time is right for Japan to finally catch up now with the Olympics just around the corner," said Douglas Bettcher, WHO's director for prevention of non-communicable disease at a news conference.

Bettcher added it was a "golden opportunity for Japan to better protect its people from the deadly effects of exposure to secondhand smoke." According to estimates from the WHO and the Japanese government, about 15,000 people, primarily women and children, die from the effects of secondhand smoke in Japan each year.

"The importance of smoke-free policy should not be limited to sport venues, but should be applicable elsewhere," wrote Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, in anarticle in the "Asahi Shimbun" newspaper. The Olympic Games offer Japan an opportunity to advance its smoke-free policy."

While smoking has declined in Japan since 1996, the country ranks at the bottom of the world when it comes to anti-smoking regulations, according to WHO. A law passed in 2003 "encourages" restaurants and other public areas to designate separate smoking and non-smoking areas, but there is no penalty for those who don't comply with the law.

Pushing for tougher rules

The WHO and the IOC are pushing for smoke-free venues for the 2020 Summer Olympics. IOC Vice President John Coates has said that they can only place a smoking ban at Olympic venues and the Olympic Village.

Previous Olympic cities have passed tough anti-smoking laws. During last year's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil passed a blanket indoor smoking ban.

Similar bans were in place in Vancouver, Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics and in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. A limited ban was in place during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well as Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

A man smokes a cigarette during lunch inside a restaurant in the Yurakuchu neighbourhood of Tokyo (Getty Images/AFP/B. Mehri)

A ban on smoking in indoor public places was recently ruled out

Mixed thoughts

In, Japan a recently proposed ban on indoor smoking by the Health Ministry was opposed by pro-smoking politicians.

The ministry has relaxed some of its plans, making concessions for indoor areas that are at least 30 square meters (323 square feet) in size with proper ventilation, but opponents say this will still cause difficulties for small restaurants and bars and hurt tobacco tax revenues, which were over 2 trillion yen ($18 billion/16 billion euros) during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

However, there are supporters of a tougher ban on public smoking. A recent survey on the impact of smoking said more people were likely to enter restaurants if there was a smoking ban in place.

Kazuo Hasegawa, a non-smoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, told the Reuters news agency that efforts to ban smoking around the Olympics were critical to the success of smoking bans in general.

"The tobacco issue is something that can't really be solved in a Japanese manner," he said. "Without outside pressure, Japan won't move on this."

kbd/cmk (AP, Reuters)

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