Japan's revised smoking measures threaten smoky 2020 Olympics, critics say

FILE PHOTO - A man smokes at an 'izakaya' restaurant or pub in Tokyo, Japan March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - Two Japanese doctors on Wednesday raised concerns about the government's latest effort to prevent second-hand smoking, saying it could lead to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo being held in an "extremely smoky environment".

The criticism comes a day after the government announced the thrust of planned revisions to a law on second-hand smoking, saying smoking would continue to be permitted in small bars and restaurants that put up warning signs for potential customers.

The health ministry gave no specifics, but Japan's major newspapers said it contemplated allowing smoking in establishments with floor space of 150 square metres (1,615 square feet) or less.

That would be far more accommodating to smokers than the ministry's plan of last March that limited smoking to bars and other liquor-serving spots with a floor space of 30 square m. (323 sq feet) or less.

"If establishments with a floor space of 150 square metres or less are exempt from the smoking ban, about 90 percent of bars will escape the restrictions," said Yumiko Mochizuki, a doctor and member of the Japan Cancer Society.

"If things stay this way, the Olympic Games in 2020 will be held in an extremely smoky environment."

Health ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Japan ranks at the bottom globally in anti-smoking measures, going by the types of public spaces that are entirely smoke-free, says the World Health Organization, which has teamed with global Olympics officials to ensure smoke-free Games venues.

Ahead of the 2020 Olympics, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is among those pressuring the Japanese capital to follow Rio de Janeiro and other recent games hosts in banning smoking in all public areas.

Asked how smoking restrictions at the 2020 Olympics would compare with previous Olympics, Toshiharu Furukawa, a ruling party lawmaker who is a medical doctor, said, "It would look considerably less favourable."

In contrast, Tomoyuki Utsuno, an official of an industry grouping of about 10,000 small bar and restaurant operators in Tokyo, welcomed the latest development.

"This is one step forward," Utsuno said. "Our activities, such as collecting signatures, are bearing fruit," he added, referring to those who oppose tough measures against smoking.

(Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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