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Firm offers 6 days paid vacation to non-smokers to curb feelings of inequality

The logo for the "sumokyu" system introduced by Piala Inc. is seen at Ebisu Garden Place Tower in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Oct. 19, 2017. (Mainichi)

Six days of extra paid leave for non-smokers? A Tokyo-based marketing firm is testing the system amid non-smokers' dissatisfaction with their co-workers' smoke breaks, amid work-style reform trends nationwide.

    The system was introduced by the roughly 120 employee Piala Inc. in September of this year. The idea came from an opinion dropped in the company suggestion box in July: "Smoking breaks are a problem."

    Piala itself is located on the 29th floor of an office building in Shibuya Ward with no smoking rooms. Smokers in the office have to travel down to the first basement floor to have a cigarette, and the company reportedly loses 10 to 15 minutes of work time each time an employee takes a smoke break. On top of that, roughly 35 percent of the staff smokes, easily adding up to dissatisfaction among the non-smokers.

    That's why Piala introduced the "sumokyu" (non-smoker holiday) system to give up to six days of paid leave per year to non-smokers. The conditions for the holidays are a self-report that an employee has not smoked within the last year, and as of Oct. 26, 31 employees have received the vacation time. Since the system was introduced, four workers also quit smoking.

    The system is not seen as pushing employees to quit smoking, but instead welcomed by smokers as a system to give rewards to non-smokers. Koki Ichimura, 25, goes to have a cigarette about three to four times a day, which takes roughly 10 minutes each time, round trip.

    "There are times where we talk with superiors and decide things, so the smoking room is effective for business. But especially when I was in my first and second year working for the company, I used to feel ashamed and found it difficult to go," he said. "I think the 'sumokyu' is a good system to decrease the inequality felt by non-smokers."

    "'Sumokyu' is a novel system," said lawyer Yoshio Isayama, author of such titles as "Kenenken o kangaeru" (Thinking about the rights of non-smokers). While many companies consider smoking breaks a problem, it's rare for any to offer paid leave like Piala.

    "For companies with a large number of smokers, businesses aren't just looking at a loss of working hours, but also the possibility of dealing with a large number of unhealthy employees in the long run," Isayama said. "I would like more people to understand the effect smoking could have on productivity."

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