• Kyodo

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Instead of letting employees light up as usual, Japanese companies are getting creative in encouraging their smokers to kick the habit, with some even introducing total bans or extra paid holidays for nonsmokers.

Indeed, more companies are not only changing their smoking areas into rest zones where workers can relax, but also refusing to hire smokers outright.

A room at the headquarters of Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Himawari Life Insurance Inc. in Tokyo was used as a smoking area until last year. Now, with the walls refreshed with a white motif, there is a fresh feeling and it no longer carries the stale stench of cigarette butts.

Smoking bans took effect at all of the insurer’s branches nationwide last August.

Sompo Japan says it deems it essential that employees stay healthy as it promotes healthy living to its customers. It also offers to pay part of the treatment cost for those wishing to quit.

“If there’s a smoking room, I’ll end up smoking. . . . It was my intention to quit, so this has acted as a way of pushing me to do it,” said Mitsuki Yano, 31, who says he went cold turkey last May after smoking for 10 years.

Yano said there were times he would go to the smoking room over 10 times a day. He said his habit acted as a diversion but also interrupted his work. “I am able to work in an efficient manner now, and I go home earlier,” he said.

From last year, major convenience store Lawson Inc. instituted smoking bans at its headquarters and regional offices. Yahoo Japan Corp. plans to remove smoking rooms at all of its hubs in fiscal 2020.

According to a recent survey by credit research agency Teikoku Databank involving about 10,000 companies, 56 percent reported having ventilated smoking areas that were completely closed-off, 22 percent had full smoking bans, and 92 percent had introduced some type of restriction on smoking.

The study also found that the number of smokers, which accounted for 50 percent of the workforce half a century ago, had dropped dramatically to just 18 percent as of 2017.

Though there has been an outcry against passive smoking, particularly ahead of the 2020 Olympics, workplace opinions vary.

Some smokers feel they are not causing trouble as long as they smoke in a partitioned area. Nonsmokers complain their smoking colleagues get special treatment because they are provided a room and time to relax.

Hoshino Resorts Inc., a leading hotel and resort chain based in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, pushes the envelope further. It asks potential hires at job interviews if they smoke. “Do you smoke cigarettes? We do not hire smokers,” reads a Hoshino pamphlet.

“We have a responsibility to protect employees from the adverse health effects of tobacco. If we’re going to have a smoking area, we ought to utilize it for customers,” said a company representative.

Elsewhere, nonsmoking employees are being rewarded with perks. Piala, a web marketing business in Tokyo, started giving six extra paid holidays to nonsmokers last year.

Employees told the president there was a clear difference in the time spent working between those who take smoking breaks and those who do not.

Sae Enoki, 24, a Piala employee, used the new system to take more vacation time during the year-end and New Year’s holidays. “I was envious of people who were taking smoking breaks to refresh, but I am satisfied (with this new system),” she said.

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