Tobacco Free Initiative

Chasing a smoke-free dream for Japan

Prevent secondhand smoke exposure: Legislate before the Olympic Games

The Asahi Shimbun

As Tokyo gears up to host the 2020 Olympic Games, public health advocates are looking at how Japan will protect athletes and tourists from all over the world from the harms of secondhand smoke. Since 1988, all Olympic Games have been declared tobacco-free, which means free from tobacco smoke and advertising. A national smoke-free law for Japan in time for the Games could ensure a long-lasting legacy for future generations.

Sports and tobacco do not mix, WHO has long supported tobacco control in Olympic host cities and countries to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

The importance of smoke-free policy should not be limited to sport venues, but should be applicable elsewhere. The Olympic Games offer Japan an opportunity to advance its smoke-free policy.

In Beijing, the tobacco-free policy went beyond the 2008 Olympic Games. The policy triggered implementation of a strong and comprehensive smoke-free ordinance that covers all public places and public transport, and even bans tobacco advertisements. Today, the national smoke-free law is underway.

Compared to other countries in the Region, Japan lags in implementing tobacco control policy. Japan is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and, therefore, required to take measures against secondhand smoke in indoor public places.

Evidence indicates that smoking areas and rooms are not effective in preventing exposure to secondhand smoke. Current policies in Japan to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke rely on voluntary regulation by business managers and building owners. "Smoking manners" or “smoking areas” which the industry advocates in television commercials and advertisements do not solve the problem – they are a smokescreen to forestall smoke-free policy. They exacerbate the harms of secondhand smoke.

Sadly, an estimated 15 000 deaths annually are still associated with secondhand smoke in Japan. Many Japanese people are still exposed to harmful secondhand smoke.

The good news is that the situation is changing. A national taskforce is exploring measures to strengthen secondhand smoke prevention, including stronger legislation. This can be a historic opportunity for Japan to join the countries that have made all public places 100% smoke-free with strong legal measures.

A national smoke-free policy in time for the 2020 Olympics will demonstrate Japan’s leadership in public health while protecting future generations from the scourge of tobacco. Now is the time to protect children and our most vulnerable populations from secondhand smoke.

A strong smoke-free policy would demonstrate Japan's leadership in public health as well as in sports. Creating a tobacco-free environment will be a sweeter, more lasting victory than any Olympic gold medal.

Dr Shin Young-soo, World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific

Click here to view and read the (online) article in Japanese.