More Japanese firms introducing anti-smoking measures, including incentives

Kyodo

An increasing number of companies are stepping up efforts to protect employees from the health hazard of cigarettes as the central and local governments study measures to curb the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

Convenience store chain Lawson Inc. introduced an all-day ban on smoking at its head office and all regional offices in June with an eye toward lowering the ratio of smokers in its entire workforce by around 10 percentage points in fiscal 2018. The smoking rate stood at 33 percent in fiscal 2016.

The ban applies to some 4,500 employees during work hours, including when they are out of the office. Sales clerks at Lawson convenience stores, which are operated under franchising contracts with the retail chain, and workers at Lawson subsidiaries are not subject to the step.

The ban also carries no penalty for violators. Heat-not-burn tobacco products, which generate an aerosol that contains nicotine, are also not covered by the step, although there is no established evidence this technique is less harmful than regular smoking.

Lawson introduced the ban in stages, starting with one day a week last year.

“The company is willing to take an even tougher anti-smoking measure in the future,” a public relations officer said.

Sompo Japan Nippon Kowa Himawari Life Insurance Inc. has introduced an all-day smoking ban at its head office and all business outlets across Japan. In step with the ban, the company converted smoking rooms at the head office into lounges.

The move is aimed at enhancing employees’ health by preventing their exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, scientifically confirmed as posing health risks.

The life insurance company also provides a subsidy to employees participating in tobacco cessation programs.

Masayuki Seto, an executive officer of the company, is one of the program participants.

“I am no longer shunned by nonsmokers as I have rid myself of the odor of cigarette smoke,” said Seto, who has smoked for 30 years. “Moves to quit smoking have spread among staff working under my supervision.”

Piala Inc., a Tokyo-based online marketing company, decided in September to offer six additional paid days off to nonsmoking employees.

Chief Executive Officer Takao Asuka took the step in response to an employee’s comment delivered to an in-house opinion box, in which he pointed out substantive daily work hours are different between smokers, who leave their desks frequently, and nonsmokers.

“I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion,” Asuka said.

More companies are expected to regulate in-house smoking as the government is reinforcing measures to prevent secondhand smoke ahead of the 2020 Olympics.