An increasing number of Japanese companies are stepping up efforts to protect employees from the health hazard of smoking at a time when the central and local governments are studying measures to curb the public's exposure to secondhand smoke.

Convenience store chain Lawson Inc. introduced an all-day ban on smoking at its head office and all regional offices in June, with an eye toward lowering the ratio of smokers to its entire workforce by around 10 percentage points in fiscal 2018 from 33 percent in fiscal 2016.

The ban applies to some 4,500 employees during work hours including when they are out of the office. Sales clerks of Lawson convenience stores, operating under franchising contracts with the retail chain, and workers of Lawson subsidiaries are not subject to the step.

The ban, however, carries no penalty for violators. Heat-not-burn tobacco products, which generate an aerosol that contains nicotine, are also not covered by the step, although there is no established evidence regarding a lowered risk and other health benefits.

Lawson introduced the ban step by step, starting with a once-a-week nonsmoking day last year. "The company is willing to take an even tougher anti-smoking measure in the future," said a public relations officer.

Sompo Japan Nippon Kowa Himawari Life Insurance Inc. has introduced an all-day smoking ban at its head office and all business outlets across Japan. In step with the ban, the company converted smoking rooms at the head office into resting rooms.

The move is aimed at enhancing employees' health by preventing their exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, scientifically confirmed as causing health risks.

The life insurance company also provides a subsidy to employees participating in tobacco cessation programs.

Masayuki Seto, an executive officer of the company, is one of the participants in such programs. "I am no longer shunned by nonsmokers as I have rid myself of the odor of cigarette smoke," said Seto, who has smoked for 30 years. "Moves to quit smoking have spread among staff working under my supervision."

Piala Inc., a Tokyo-based online marketing company, decided in September to offer six additional paid days off to nonsmoking employees.

Chief executive officer Takao Asuka took the step in response to an employee's comment delivered to an in-house opinion box, in which he pointed out substantive daily work hours are different between smokers, who leave their desks frequently, and nonsmokers.

"I hope to encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion," Asuka said.

More companies are expected to regulate in-house smoking as the government is reinforcing measures to prevent secondhand smoking ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.