• Kyodo

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Taxi passengers won’t be able to light up anywhere in Oita Prefecture on June 1.

That is the day the last of an estimated 2,800 taxis operated by companies and independent drivers across the prefecture will ban smoking — a first for the country.

Taxi operators in the city of Oita introduced the smoking ban in April 2006 and it was so well received that it quickly spread to other parts of the prefecture. As of the end of April, there were only about 200 taxis left in the prefecture that still allowed passengers to smoke. Those companies will introduce the ban June 1.

“The smoking ban is in line with the current trend,” said Futami Kan, chairman of the Oita taxi operator association.

In the beginning, Kan said, drivers for companies that didn’t allow smoking were worried smokers wouldn’t use them, but they have generally favorable reactions from those who used their services.

According to the Japan Federation of Taxicab Associations, taxi companies in Kanagawa Prefecture also plan to institute a blanket ban on smoking in all cabs.

The number of nonsmoking taxis nationwide has more than doubled in the past year and will likely continue to increase, the federation said.

On May 1, Nagoya and neighboring municipalities in Aichi Prefecture agreed to make their estimated 8,000 taxis smoke-free.

The Nagoya taxicab association said it has received some complaints from smokers and some independent cabbies continue to allow smoking. One of them, Osamu Takada, 62, said: “I want to respect the feelings of smokers. Many of my customers who get a ride at night like to smoke.”

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