You Can Get More Vacation Time in Japan if You Don't Smoke

A man smokes at an 'izakaya' restaurant or pub in Tokyo, Japan March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Despite efforts from international health organizations, there are close to one billion smokers around the world, according to the latest figures.

But a marketing firm in Tokyo is trying a new approach to entice its workers to put down the coffin nails and get to work.

In September, Piala Inc. began giving its non-smoking staff an additional six vacation days to be used throughout the year. The company introduced the new policy after several non-smokers complained that they were working more than their smoker counterparts, who would take at least 15 minutes to get back to work every time they went out for a cigarette.

"One of our non-smoking staff put a message in the company suggestion box earlier in the year saying that smoking breaks were causing problems," said Hirotaka Matsushima, a spokesman for the company, in an interview with The Telegraph. "Our CEO saw the comment and agreed, so we are giving non-smokers some extra time off to compensate."

The company says that giving vacation days to its non-smoking staff is both to compensate for their extra time on the job and to convince their colleagues to quit smoking.

So far, the company has convinced four workers to quit.

Cigarettes pose a grave public health threat in Japan. According to the World Health Organization, close to one in five people are regular smokers in Japan and the country also has some of the worst anti-smoking regulations in the world.

To amend the problem, Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, introduced legislation in July banning smoking in public places ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics. But the proposal faces tough opposition from special interests.

Workers in Japan are entitled to at least ten days of paid annual leave per year, with one extra day per year worked until the employee reaches a 20-day-a-year cap, making it the second lowest amount of vacation days in the developed world. (The United States ranks first.)

But according to a survey by Expedia Japan in conducted 2015, the average Japanese worker used only 39 percent of their annual paid leave. That worries many Japanese employers who fear their workers will burnout and face grave health problems that could be deadly.