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Authorities work to keep streets smoke-free during Tokyo Games

  • News Desk

    The Japan News/Asia News Network

Tokyo, Japan   /   Mon, March 25, 2019   /   09:19 am
Authorities work to keep streets smoke-free during Tokyo Games This picture taken on March 8, 2019 shows the Yokohama International Stadium. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

The strictest smoking policy of any Olympics and Paralympics in recent years will be enforced at the Tokyo 2020 Games in all the competition venues, including their grounds.

However, parties including residents of surrounding areas and local governments are voicing concerns about a possible knock-on effect increasing such problems as people smoking on the streets outside venues, and cigarette butts being discarded on the ground.

In response to those worries, local authorities are hurrying to implement measures to deal with the issues.

No ifs, no butts

“I’m looking forward to the Games, but I don’t want there to be more littering of cigarette butts, which can cause fires,” said a 39-year-old part-time worker who lives near Yokohama’s International Stadium Yokohama, which will host soccer matches, with a worried expression on her face. 

In the past, a notable amount of cigarette butts and other garbage has been left on surrounding roads and elsewhere after matches at the stadium. There are fears that smoking in the streets will increase during the Games.

The organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Games announced at the end of February that smoking would be prohibited in the grounds of all competition venues, and that smoking areas in existing facilities would also be closed. 

The decision was in line with the International Olympic Committee’s promotion of smoke-free Games, and represents a stricter policy than the measures implemented at recent events such as the 2012 London Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, which set up smoking areas within the grounds of competition venues. 

However, according to people connected with the Games, cigarette butts were scattered in such places as the roads and garbage cans around venues at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, where smoking was in principle banned on the grounds of competition venues. 

According to the organizing committee for the Tokyo Games, “If smoking is banned in the venues, there is a danger outdoor smoking will increase, and we need to coordinate with local governments.”

Fines for violators

Many of the local authority areas where the 43 competition venues are located have banned smoking on the street via ordinances and other means. Overseas, in contrast, some countries prohibit smoking inside but allow people to smoke relatively freely outside, a difference from Japan that could lead to confusion. 

In Chofu, Tokyo — the location of Tokyo Stadium, which will be a venue for such sports as soccer and rugby — smoking while walking is prohibited. During the 2020 Games, the stadium will not be permitted to set up smoking areas on its grounds.

The city will work to spread knowledge of its ordinance through such means as having people patrol around the venue, but an official in charge said, “It’s probably going to be really hard to get a large number of foreigners to obey the rule.”

The area between Yokohama Stadium, which will host baseball and other competitions, and the nearest stations has been designated a non-smoking district by a Yokohama city ordinance. People who violate the rule are subject to fines.

“If people can’t smoke within the grounds, this area is going to overflow with smokers,” an 82-year-old woman walking in the park containing the stadium said apprehensively.

Authorities take action

Some local governments are moving to set up outside smoking areas.

Tokyo has passed an ordinance that restricts passive smoking more severely than national law. From April 2020, eating and drinking establishments that hire employees will in principle become non-smoking, regardless of their floor space.

In tandem with this ordinance, Tokyo is also helping to subsidize the cost of setting up public smoking areas, to help prevent people from smoking while walking.

Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, which has banned smoking throughout its streets and parks, is considering using the metropolitan government’s subsidy program to set up one or more public smoking areas near the stations closest to Equestrian Park, which will host horse-riding events.

However, it is a 15-to-20-minute walk from the park to the stations. A ward official said, “We’re worried about people smoking while walking, but it’s not realistic to set up a smoking area in a residential neighborhood. It’s tough to take steps on this.”

Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, which was quick to tackle on-the-street smoking, is providing financial support for the private-sector establishment of smoking areas and has increased the number of signs listing the rules in foreign languages.

It has also started operating a trailer that was converted into a mobile indoor smoking lounge. However, it does not envision parking it on public roads, and it will not be easy to secure locations near such places as Nippon Budokan, which will be a competition venue, and the Imperial Palace.

“We decided to make the Games completely non-smoking, partly at the strong desire of the IOC,” said an organizing committee official in charge. “We’ll work to inform tourists and others about the different local governments’ rules.”

Regarding specific measures, however, the official only said, “We’ll consult with local governments.”

A person in charge at one local government said, “Even if we outwardly achieve a ‘non-smoking Games,’ it’s the local governments who will bear the responsibility if nearby residents are inconvenienced. We want the organizing committee to use its ingenuity to devise specific measures.