New Tokyo Olympics Minister Opposes Smoking Ban

(ATR) Shunichi Suzuki does not agree with attempts to impose an indoor smoking ban by Governor Koike.

(ATR) Tokyo’s new Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki does not agree with attempts to impose a public, indoor smoking ban by Governor Yuriko Koike.

According to the Japan Times, Suzuki said that measures "should focus on the comprehensive separation of smoking and nonsmoking areas, rather than smoking bans. I hope the health ministry will draw up a bill acceptable to all and submit it to the next session of the Diet."

However, Governor Koike, now in her second year as the first female governor of the Japanese capital, is seeking to push forward a bill by the end of the year to end the risks of second-hand smoking in a city known as a smoker’s haven.

"The country is slow, but we will carry out our duty as the host city," Koike said according to Nikkei Shimbun, noting the capital’s responsibility to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

"I’m planning to introduce an ordinance prohibiting smoking [in public places] at the earliest possible date," she said, according to the Japan Times. "Under normal circumstances, such measures should be undertaken by the central government, but we can’t wait forever, so I want to introduce it first in Tokyo."

Suzuki took office on Aug. 3 in a reshuffling of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, replacing former Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo. Suzuki is embedded in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which is against a complete public ban. The government retains a 30 percent stake in Japan Tobacco, the country’s largest tobacco company which provided the government $700 million in dividends in 2015.

The smoking battle is a manifestation of the political back and forth between Abe and Koike as the governor continues to garner support both locally and nationally, threatening Abe’s political holdings and the ruling LDP.

Koike is not the only driving force for a tobacco-free Tokyo. The World Health Organization has ranked Japan at the bottom worldwide in anti-smoking regulations, measured by the amount of smoke-free public establishments.

In conjunction with the International Olympic Committee, the WHO has worked towards providing smoke-free Olympic venues for recent editions of the Games, including the Rio 2016 Olympics.

In response to Suzuki’s smoking separation comments, the Japan Society for Tobacco Control issued a statement seeking a retraction from the minister.

"His actions stab the IOC and the WHO in the back," the JSTC states. "It is an international problem, where athletes and several hundred thousand spectators from around the world will be exposed to secondhand smoke. Protecting the policy of a complete ban on indoor smoking is the duty of the minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Suzuki is expected to make his first public appearance on behalf of Tokyo 2020 at the three-year milestone to the Paralympics taking place on Aug. 25. He will be joined by Koike, Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto and a number of Japanese Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the ceremony held at the Urban Dock LaLaport Toyuso.

Written by Kevin Nutley

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