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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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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