By Nick Butler

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe has spoken enthusaiastically about limiting smoking ahead of Tokyo 2020 ©AFP/Getty ImagesTokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe has backed proposals to restrict smoking in the Japanese capital ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

Unlike in much of Europe and North America, there are no official limitations on smoking in public in Japan, with Article 25 of the Japanese Health Promotion Act merely urging restrictions.

The number of smokers has steadily fallen over recent decades but there remains an estimated total of nearly 30 million smokers, which equates to more than 20 per cent of the population, deeming the Asian nation one of the world's largest tobacco markets.

When Tokyo last hosted the Olympic Games, in 1964, the Organising Committee earned ¥103 million (£600,000/$1 million/€755,000) from official Olympics-branded cigarettes.

Leading Japanese brand, "Peace", ran a promotion where each packet was sold with a numbered premium ticket, with a further 365 packets the prize for the winning ticket. 

But, speaking on Fuji TV, Masuzoe, a former Health Minister appointed Governor in February, replacing Naoki Inose, said "I want to do this," when questioned about the possibility of stricter curbs.

"If I get cooperation from the Tokyo Assembly, we can pass an ordinance," he added.

He has since also claimed "promoting the health of all the people in the world is one of the major aims of the Olympics and Paralympics", and that he thinks it is "important to properly prevent passive smoking in the run-up to 2020".

If Masuzoe has his way, attitudes towards smoking at Tokyo 2020 could be very different to those seen in 1964 ©Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesIf Masuzoe has his way, attitudes towards smoking at Tokyo 2020 could be very different to those seen in 1964 ©Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If such a ban is introduced as a consequence of the Games, it could form a major legacy of Tokyo 2020, in a similar way that Rio 2016 was, initially at least, aiming to use the Games to change attitudes regarding pollution.

There is also a history of tobacco restrictions being in place at an Olympic Games, with the International Olympic Committee adopting its first smoke-free policy at Games-venues during Calgary 1988.

While London, the location for the last Summer Games, had already banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2007, in this year's Winter Olympic host city of Sochi, fines were introduced for smoking in locations, including restaurants.

Yet any effort to introduce restrictions in Tokyo may be met with resistance from Japan Tobacco Inc (JTI), a company which was a Government-run monopoly until 1985 and whose largest shareholder remains the Japanese Finance Ministry.

Revenues from tobacco taxes are forecast by the ministry to amount to ¥922 billion (£5.3 billion/$8.9 billion/€6.7 billion) in the financial year ending in March.

A statement on the JTI website, unrelated to the specific Tokyo 2020 debate, explains that "while JTI supports regulation of smoking in many public places", they "do not believe that laws prohibiting smoking in all workplaces and places open to the public are the solution".

Restrictions on smoking in restaurants were introduced ahead of Sochi 2014 ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesRestrictions on smoking in restaurants were introduced ahead of Sochi 2014
©Bongarts/Getty Images

Yet the move would likely gain much public support, with a survey in May finding that 63 per cent of indoor workers support the implementation of a national smoke-free ban before 2020.

On August 1, McDonald's banned smoking in every one of its 3,135 outlets in Japan, while Starbucks has maintained a smoking ban, as it does elsewhere in the world, in all its outlets in Japan ever since the first one opened in 1996.

Shigefumi Matsuzawa, who as Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture introduced a historic smoke-free public places ordinance in 2009, believes a law preventing passive smoking is vital "in order to make the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a success".

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