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Smoke-free Olympics, Paralympics in 2020 looks increasingly unlikely

While the government has moved to tackle passive smoking in Japan, a smoke-free Olympic Games in 2020 is appearing increasingly unlikely due to exceptions to a proposed ban on lighting up.

In a proposal announced on March 1, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) stated that in addition to small bars and lounge pubs, "exempted venues" would also include kabuki stages and professional baseball stadia to be used during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The development is a blow for those hoping for a "smoke-free" Olympics. Initially, the drive to reduce exposure to passive smoke was carried out with the intention of achieving a tobacco-free Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. In its original proposal, the MHLW aimed to make all athletic facilities such as stadia completely smoke-free by implementing a blanket smoking ban in such venues.

However, in the latest MHLW proposal on March 1, venues such as professional baseball stadia which are recognized as "entertainment places" under the Entertainment Places Act, will be exempted from the policy, and smoking rooms will be allowed.

Consequently, at venues such as Yokohama Stadium and Saitama Stadium which will host events during the 2020 Games, it will be possible to install smoking rooms. It is uncertain what the policy will be concerning the New National Stadium, but the old National Stadium has been recognized as an "entertainment place" -- which means that smoking rooms could be installed there.

If existing smoking rooms at facilities that will not be exempted from the policy meet certain criteria, then they can continue to operate for five more years after the relevant legislation comes into force, which means that they can still be used during the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.

The biggest exemptions under this proposal are small-scale bars, lounge pubs and restaurants which mainly offer alcoholic beverages. The MHLW definition of "small-scale" is set to be a "total floor space of 30 square meters or less," but according to a recent Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey of randomly selected venues, close to 70 percent of bars and similar establishments would fall under this category.

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