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Employment office refuses to specify jobs in health sector are only for nonsmokers

CHIBA -- A request by a health organization to specify that its job openings for nurses and related occupations are limited to nonsmokers was declined by a local public employment agency after it deemed smoking "a matter of personal choice."

The Chiba Foundation for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, based in Chiba Prefecture's Mihama Ward, east of Tokyo, conducts medical examinations. It expressed disappointment at the job center's refusal as the request "was for the promotion of health." Meanwhile, the "Hello Work" employment office countered that "individuals should be selected based on their skills and competency."

A representative of the foundation paid a visit to the Hello Work office late September, and discussed job postings for nurses, clerical workers, and five other job categories in the health sector, according to those involved in the case. The foundation has made public on its website since last year its policy to limit job offerings to nonsmokers as part of its efforts to curb smoking. The representative asked the employment office to specify that its jobs were for nonsmokers.

However, the request was turned down by Chiba's Hello Work employment office, which said that "smoking is a personal choice" and "it's not possible to publicly announce such requirements." An official at the job center explained that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare seeks a "fair selection process" based on individuals' skills and competency, and said, "We wanted to open the door to as many applicants as possible."

Professor Hiroshi Yamato at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan, who studies measures to prevent smoking, feels that the Hello Work office made a mistake in its decision. "Patients face the possibility of suffering from secondhand smoke if people who smoke are hired," said Yamato. "It's essential for such health industries to hire only nonsmokers."

On the other hand, economist Takuro Morinaga, a regular smoker, stated that the job center acted appropriately. "Just as it's wrong to discriminate against people because of their origin, it's also not right to exclude individuals because they smoke," commented Morinaga.

Meanwhile, the employment security section of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that requiring nonsmokers for certain jobs "cannot categorically be considered discrimination, if there are rational reasons behind such moves." At Public Employment Security Offices across Japan, there have been at least 20 job postings for nurses, restaurant workers, and other occupations that specifically required nonsmokers.

(Japanese original by Yoshihiko Saito, Lifestyle News Department)

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