TOKYO >> Japanese firms are taking stronger action against tobacco use, going so far as to avoid hiring smokers in some cases.
The moves come amid greater emphasis on promoting employees’ health, limiting exposure to secondhand smoke and boosting productivity by eliminating smoking breaks.
Combating smoking is a way companies can remake themselves, said Yasuhiro Oba, president of Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Himawari Life Insurance Inc. Oba was at a corporate consortium in Tokyo last month to discuss antismoking measures. More than 20 companies and groups convened for the initiative.
Sompo has stepped up promotion of an insurance service that helps policyholders maintain good health, while in its offices, it has refused to hire new graduates who smoke. The company’s corporate officers and others in high-level positions must also sign a document stating they will not smoke during work hours.
Likewise, Hoshino Resorts Inc. requires recruits to sign a pledge not to smoke after joining the company.
Rohto Pharmaceutical Co. aims to eliminate all smoking among employees by 2020. Employees who successfully quit smoking receive tokens that can be used at the cafeteria and elsewhere in the company.
Japan’s academia has also moved to limit tobacco consumption. Nagasaki University will not hire faculty members who smoke to protect students and others from secondhand smoke. The university will only consider job candidates who smoke if they promise to quit if they are hired.
Oita University has decided to give preference to nonsmokers when appointing faculty.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has weighed in as well on such hiring practices. While companies are prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on gender or disabilities, the ministry said, such protections do not apply to smokers.
Pfizer Japan Inc. took a cautious approach before amending its hiring policies, first consulting with lawyers. After concluding that a policy to not hire smokers was relevant to its business activities, Pfizer last month ceased hiring mid-career workers who smoke. It also stopped promoting contract workers to regular employees if they smoke, and will not hire new graduates who smoke.
According to lawyer Yujiro Yoshimura, who specializes in labor issues, companies have the right to “freedom of employment” and will continue to act against smokers, especially with public opinion on their side. However, he cautioned that “firms might be going overboard if their rules apply to employees’ personal time, in addition to working hours.”