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WHO: Japan needs anti-smoking law ahead of Tokyo Olympics

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Japan should ban smoking in all public places if it wants to successfully host the Tokyo Olympics and promote tourism, a senior World Health Organization official said Friday.

Japan, often known as a smoker’s paradise, has no binding law controlling secondhand smoking and has come under pressure to institute one ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.

The health ministry is preparing legislation to limit secondhand smoking, but faces strong opposition from smoking lawmakers and the tobacco industry. WHO and the International Olympic Committee agreed in 2010 to promote smoke-free Olympic Games, and host nations China, Russia and Brazil have since achieved that goal.

Douglas Bettcher, WHO director of non-communicable diseases prevention, said Japanese smoking restrictions are far behind global standards and need to be updated because foreign visitors expect clean air while in Japan. He said partial anti-smoking measures are ineffective and that the ministry’s draft, while an improvement, should be strengthened.

“The time is right for Japan to finally catch up now with the Olympics just around the corner,” Bettcher said at a news conference. He said it was a “golden opportunity for Japan to better protect its people from the deadly effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The ministry draft, issued in early March, provides for a ban on indoor smoking in government and sports facilities, but allows partial bans with the use of smoking rooms in offices, theaters, restaurants and bars. Smoking would be allowed in small bars and cafes, following protests by opponents who cited fears of losing customers who smoke.

Supporters of a stricter smoking ban say the government is weak-kneed because Japan’s tobacco industry, former state monopoly Japan Tobacco, is still one-third state-owned.

Finance Minister Taro Aso told a recent parliamentary session that tobacco sales provide more than 2 trillion yen ($19 billion) in tax revenues annually and a loss of that income would have a major impact on government finances. A smoker himself, Aso questioned the link between smoking and health problems.

Japanese Olympics organizers say smoking will be prohibited in indoor facilities at the Tokyo games.

Bettcher said concerns about the economic impact on the hospitality industry are exaggerated, and that smoking control measures protect all citizens from exposure to second- and third-hand smoke — toxic and carcinogenic particles that linger in fabrics, curtains in hotel rooms and elsewhere.

Surveys in Japan on the impact of a smoking ban have had mixed results — one predicts a billion-dollar sales decline in restaurants and bars, while another says more people will choose to dine out if restaurants are smoke-free.

Bettcher said Japan also lags in providing health warnings to its people, citing the absence of graphic photo warnings on cigarette packs.

In Japan, about 15,000 people — mainly women and children — die per year from secondhand smoke, according to government and WHO estimates.

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U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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Five women’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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As Rio gold medalists decide on their futures, this week’s P&G Championships mark the first showcase for a new class of U.S. women’s gymnasts.

For the first time since 2008, nobody in the nationals field in Anaheim has competed at an Olympics. Usually, a gymnast or two carries over into the post-Olympic year, like Bridget Sloan in 2009 and Kyla Ross in 2013.

But this year, the feeling is akin to 2005, when no woman (or man) from the 2004 Athens Games chalked up at nationals.

Back then, a 15-year-old Nastia Liukin, who had already starred in a commercial during the 2004 Olympics, made her senior nationals debut and won the all-around. Three years later, Liukin won the Olympic all-around in Beijing.

There will be talk this week of finding the next Liukin, or Gabby Douglas, or Simone Biles, who, like Liukin, won her senior nationals debut the year after the Olympics.

“Some of them [from Rio], hopefully Simone, will be coming back, but I think this is a great opportunity for some of these girls to go out there and prove that they’re just as ready to compete at a world championships,” said Liukin, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “They have to step up a little bit and kind of become the leaders.”

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Gymnasts this week are vying to impress new U.S. national team coordinator Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father). The four-woman roster for October’s worlds, where there is no team event, will be named after a selection camp later this summer.

Five gymnasts to watch at the P&G Championships:

Ragan Smith
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 AT&T American Cup champion

The Texan performed admirably in her first senior season in 2016, placing fifth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. Her best events are balance beam and floor exercise, but the U.S. needed uneven bars help in Rio. So she went to the Games as an alternate at age 15, making headlines for this photo with 6-foot-11 basketball player DeAndre Jordan.

Smith, coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal, emerged this year as the U.S.’ most reliable all-arounder and clear favorite this week. She won the American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. A definite all-around medal favorite at October’s worlds.

Ashton Locklear
Rio Olympic alternate
2014 World team champion

Locklear was beaten for the Olympic team bars specialist spot by Madison Kocian after nearly matching Kocian in scores in four routines between last year’s P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The 19-year-old is not considered an all-around threat this week but is favored to make the world team based on her bars ability. She was fourth in the event at 2014 Worlds.

Riley McCusker
2017 Jesolo Trophy all-around winner

McCusker, who has the same coach as Laurie Hernandez, struggled at the American Cup in her first senior competition, falling on bars and beam. She rebounded to win Jesolo a month later and remain in the mix as the No. 2 U.S. all-arounder (Smith wasn’t at Jesolo).

However, McCusker was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July and said she expected to be back to peak form in September, not August.

Morgan Hurd
2017 Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, was adopted from China as a toddler and now lives with her mom in Delaware.

Liukin, asked to name gymnasts to watch this week, started with Hurd, whom she says has the highest floor exercise start value in the world. “She could be capable of winning a world all-around medal and possibly become a world champion on floor,” Liukin said.

Jade Carey
2017 U.S. Classic vault winner

The U.S. has a tradition of sending a vault specialist to worlds, but neither of the top vaulters from the last Olympic cycle — Biles nor MyKayla Skinner — is competing this week. Enter Carey, a 17-year-old who wasn’t an elite gymnast before this season.

Carey performed the difficult Amanar vault at July’s U.S. Classic, where she was the only gymnast to perform two vaults, which is required to compete for medals on the event at worlds.

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