TOKYO UN­DER PRES­SURE

IOC want Games venues and pub­lic places to ban smok­ing

New Straits Times - - Sport - DOU­GLAS BETTCHER

TOKYO

“I think peo­ple would stop com­ing,” she said, adding that be­ing able to smoke and drink helps re­served Japanese open up.

The rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party’s (LDP) health com­mit­tee, whose sup­port is es­sen­tial to in­tro­duc­ing the bill in par­lia­ment, won’t meet min­istry of­fi­cials, say­ing the re­vised bill is too strict.

The com­mit­tee chair, Naomi Tokashiki, ac­knowl­edges there should be a law that pro­tects against sec­ond-hand smoke, but says Ja­pan’s cul­tural em­pha­sis on good man­ners and sen­si­tiv­ity to oth­ers should suf­fice.

“I be­lieve Japanese peo­ple re­ally are con­sid­er­ate of oth­ers,” she said. “It’s more im­por­tant for us to trust peo­ple than en­act a re­ally re­pres­sive law.”

Not so, say health au­thor­i­ties, point­ing to 15,000 deaths a year from sec­ond­hand smoke, mostly women and chil­dren.

A re­cent news­pa­per de­scribed Ja­pan as a ‘par­adise for smok­ers,’ and I’m sure it wouldn’t want that ti­tle.

“It’s not a ques­tion of man­ners, we’re look­ing at the im­pact on health,” said a min­istry of­fi­cial in­volved in craft­ing the bill who de­clined to be named due to the is­sue’s sen­si­tiv­ity.

“We’ve ba­si­cally al­lowed peo­ple their in­de­pen­dence, but the sit­u­a­tion hasn’t changed,” he said. “Some­thing more is needed.”

It now seems un­likely the law will be put to a vote in the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary ses­sion, which ends on June 18.

Fifty years ago, around half of Japanese smoked. That’s now dropped to 18 per cent, and smok­ing ar­eas have been dra­mat­i­cally re­stricted, but smok­ing laws vary from city to city and, within Tokyo, from ward to ward. Penal­ties are low and en­force­ment lax.

A 2003 law “en­cour­ages” restau­rants and other pub­lic ar­eas to sep­a­rate smok­ing and non­smok­ing ar­eas, but there is no penalty for non-com­pli­ance. Smok­ing is still pos­si­ble on the grounds of schools and hos­pi­tals, though not in­side, and there is a cig­a­rette vend­ing ma­chine in a health min­istry an­nex.

Ja­pan ranks bot­tom glob­ally in anti-smok­ing reg­u­la­tions, as mea­sured by the types of pub­lic places en­tirely smoke-free, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The re­vised pro­posal would raise Ja­pan to the sec­ond­low­est of four rungs.

The WHO has teamed up with the IOC to guar­an­tee smoke-free Games venues, though IOC vice pres­i­dent John Coates has said the body can’t force a ban be­yond the venues and the Olympic Vil­lage.

Brazil passed a blan­ket in­door smok­ing ban be­fore the Rio Olympics in 2016, and bans were in place for the 2010 Win­ter Olympics in Van­cou­ver, Canada as well as for the 2012 Lon­don Games. In Rus­sia, Sochi had only a lim­ited city ban for the 2014 Win­ter Olympics, but an ex­ten­sive na­tional ban was in­tro­duced a few months later. Bei­jing had a lim­ited, tem­po­rary ban in 2008, but en­force­ment was patchy. It passed a tougher ban in 2015, when it hosted the athletics World Cham­pi­onships.

The is­sue could af­fect Ja­pan’s image as it looks to at­tract more tourists. Many trav­el­ers from Europe and North Amer­ica are used to smok­ing be­ing banned in­doors.

“A re­cent news­pa­per de­scribed Ja­pan as a ‘par­adise for smok­ers,’ and I’m sure it wouldn’t want that ti­tle,” said Dou­glas Bettcher, WHO’s di­rec­tor for pre­ven­tion of non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease. “It’s not a good im­pres­sion to give ... as Ja­pan is pre­par­ing and in­vest­ing so much for the 2020 Sum­mer Olympics.”

Many politi­cians have pro­posed a tem­po­rary smok­ing ban for the Olympics, says Toshi­haru Fu­rukawa, an LDP law­maker and a doc­tor who sup­ports an in­door ban, not­ing some col­leagues’ con­cern about a drop in gov­ern­ment tax rev­enues from cig­a­rettes at a time when Ja­pan’s tax­pay­ing pop­u­la­tion is shrink­ing.

“Tobacco is a very im­por­tant tax re­source,” he said. Some of those law­mak­ers “are smok­ers, but some are backed by farm­ing groups that pro­duce tobacco, and some are backed by tobacco com­pa­nies.”

Ja­pan Tobacco spokesman Masahito Shi­rasu said the com­pany shares con­cerns about pas­sive smok­ing, but the health min­istry’s pro­posal is too strict.

The 80,000-strong Na­tional Food and Drink As­so­ci­a­tion favours hav­ing es­tab­lish­ments dis­play stick­ers show­ing if they are non-smok­ing, seg­re­gated, or al­low smok­ing — let­ting cus­tomers de­cide.

“Only 18 per cent of peo­ple may smoke, but the per­cent­age of smok­ing cus­tomers in smaller restau­rants is much higher — nearly half,” said Tet­suro Kojo, head of the as­so­ci­a­tion. “We must take care of them.”

Pub­lic opin­ion varies. A poll by the lib­eral Asahi Shim­bun news­pa­per found that 64 per cent sup­ported the re­vised pro­posal, while the con­ser­va­tive Sankei Shim­bun found only 37 per cent in favour.

Kazuo Hasegawa, a 46-year-old non-smoker di­ag­nosed with lung cancer in 2010, be­lieves pres­sure re­lated to the Olympics is es­sen­tial for achiev­ing a ban.

“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.” Reuters

REUTERS PIC

Tokyo pub owner Nat­suko Takami fears los­ing money as she can’t af­ford new ven­ti­la­tion, and could be fined if a cus­tomer smoked.

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