How much time do you think you’ve spent on smoke breaks? A few hours? Long enough to finish a floor puzzle? Long enough to write that novella you keep thinking about? One company out of Japan is willing to wager it’s around six days, give or take. Piala Inc., a marketing firm, has recently decided to change its policy regarding off-days, suggesting that non-smokers are at a disadvantage over all the smoke breaks they don’t take.
Smoking is extremely popular throughout all of Asia, and Japan is no different. About one in every five people in Japan smoke cigarettes. It is not uncommon to see ‘smoking rooms’ in everything from hotels to shopping malls, cramped, darkened aside rooms that could be mistaken for a phone booth. Some of the biggest companies in the country have considered tackling the matter. Last June, the convenience store chain Lawson banned smoking from their head and regional offices. One insurance company converted their smoking rooms into general lounges after banning cigarettes. Some believe the country is trying to curtail second-hand smoke ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Piala Inc. decided to take the measure after an anonymous complaint was dropped into the suggestion box. The employee was concerned that smoking breaks were becoming too disruptive to the company. The note made it all the way up to the company’s CEO, Takao Asuka, who decided that non-smokers should be compensated for their time. They decided that non-smokers should be given additional paid vacation days to balance things out. The measure, the company says, isn’t a reward for employees who never picked up the habit, but encouragement for current smokers to pursue quitting.
“I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion”, said Asuka
Piala Inc.’s decision is certainly less drastic and less drastic than Lawson’s, though less creative and less drastic than that Stephen King book with the electrocution chamber.
“I do not see any concerns here as this policy is simply rewarding a healthier lifestyle while recognizing those who are not taking any unnecessary breaks during their normal work hours,” said Bahaudin Mujtaba, a specialist in ethics in workplace health and wellness policy, in a Vice interview. “There can be an ethical concern regarding this additional incentive to encourage smokers to quit. Some employees may be tempted to lie about their smoking habits in order to receive the additional days off,” he says. “However, if non-smokers are working while smokers get a smoke break, then this change in policy seems fair.”
One could argue that the company could have also invested in addiction coaches to give smokers who want out a helping hand. And who will pity the country’s dishwashers, for whom smoke breaks are the only recess from pickling hands? It’s a shame that cannabis is so strictly enforced in the country, given that marijuana smokers certainly know how to make a single off-day feel like a week.
Here’s another alternative solution: encourage non-smokers to take long bathroom breaks. Especially with those famous, heated Japanese Toto toilets. Even the washrooms at a 7-Eleven or those wild Don Quijote department stores are like a tiny five minute trip to the butt spa.